LOS ANGELES – To quote Donald Trump, this is "Huge."
The Los Angeles Clippers announced on Tuesday that forward Blake Griffin will miss the remainder of the 2016 NBA Playoffs with a left thigh injury, and that point guard Chris Paul will be out 3-6 weeks after he underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his right hand.
The sudden turn of events is a crushing blow to a Clippers team that has had a history of postseason misfortune over the years. Within 12 hours, the Clips went from an NBA Finals contender – with the news that Steph Curry was out for at least two weeks – to the underdog in their first round series with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Without Griffin and Paul, all hope seems lost and oddsmakers have the Trail Blazers advancing into the second round (likely against Golden State), but the fact of the matter is that Los Angeles still has a path to victory against Portland and can still steal the series shorthanded.
"In our eyes it's a 2-2 series," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told the media on Tuesday. "We still have home court, nobody has won a road game yet and so now we have to find a way to win tomorrow."
Austin Rivers will most likely replace Paul in the starting lineup, and as the team proved in Houston last postseason, they can win a playoff game without Paul. However, Griffin dominated those two games in Houston in round two, and they will be without both stars in the final three games of the series against the Trail Blazers.
With Paul and Griffin in the lineup, Rivers had the luxury of starting Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a defensive presence with little to no offensive output whatsoever. If the Clippers want to win the series, Mbah a Moute needs to head to the bench and Jeff Green needs to be inserted into the starting lineup. At this point, without Paul and Griffin, the Clips need offense, not defense to defeat the Trail Blazers.
"My job with the guys we have is to make sure that they're ready and focused," Rivers said. "It's easy with the injuries we have to lose focus, it's my job to make sure that we don't."
The other key ingredient is NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. The 36-year-old guard will have to carry more of the offensive load, scoring close to 30 points per game like he did when the starters were not in the lineup down the stretch.
If Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are not on the court, expect to see more of a Clippers backcourt with Rivers and Crawford. When they are on the court, a combination of J.J. Redick, Crawford and point guard Pablo Prigioni could be used. Prigioni is a better passer and better defender than Rivers and his minutes will be needed against the blistering backcourt of the Blazers.
The final piece of the Clippers new postseason puzzle could be veteran forward Paul Pierce who signed with his former coach and hometown team in the offseason. Pierce didn't play much of a role during the regular season and has been non-existent in the playoffs.
The 38-year-old has scored a total of just three points in the first round series, but the time is now for him to reemerge and help carry the Clippers on his back. Pierce proved with Washington last postseason that he still has what it takes, as he hit the game-winner in round one to send the Wizards on to the second round. If Pierce can score in double figures, Los Angeles has a chance to advance to round two.