Sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in four games, the San Antonio Spurs were the first team to close out their Western Conference playoff series, enabling an early return to Texas for rest and preparation for the second round.
The Oklahoma Thunder were next up, closing out the Dallas Mavericks in five games. Ranked third in the conference behind the Spurs, who are ranked second in the conference and in the league, the Thunder will play the Spurs in the second round. The Los Angeles Clippers, ranked fourth, have struggled on the road against the Portland Trailblazers, losing both away games back-to-back after winning the first two. Here is where it becomes intriguing.
The Portland-Clippers series, tied at 2-2 at the start of last night’s game (Wednesday) in Los Angeles, has been a challenge for L.A. They not only have lost games 3 and 4 but also have lost the services of their star guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin. Paul fractured the third metacarpal, the middle finger of his right hand, while guarding Portland guard Gerald Henderson at the 6:10 mark of the third quarter of Monday night’s game. Griffin re-injured his left quad, located above the knee.
“It doesn’t look good for him,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, referencing Paul after the game, who also suffered an injury during last season’s playoffs, forcing him to miss the first two games of the second round against the Houston Rockets. L.A. lost that series in seven games.
Paul had surgery Tuesday morning to repair the fracture and will be out indefinitely, which was noted in a statement released on the Clippers’ website. Monday’s game was close, but to a point. Despite the injuries to their key players, the Clippers were outmatched by Portland, affectionately known as Rip City. Portland out rebounded L.A. 58-42 and held them to 35.7 percent shooting. Mason Plumlee, formerly with the Brooklyn Nets, had a double-double, dishing out 10 assists, pulling down 14 rebounds on top of the double-double from forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who contributed 30 points and 10 rebounds. Game 6 is tomorrow (Friday) in Portland.
The Golden State Warriors, the league’s one seed and defending NBA champions, with issues of their own, benefit greatly from an extended Portland-Clipper series. Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the darling of the NBA and reigning league MVP, is expected to be out for two weeks because of a sprained ligament in his right knee, sustained at the end of the first half of Sunday’s game against the Rockets. Curry slipped on a wet spot, moisture from perspiration on Houston’s floor. His MRI was diagnosed as a grade 1 MCL sprain, which is the medical abbreviation for median collateral ligament. It will be reevaluated in two weeks. Unfortunately, the time off doesn’t guarantee Curry’s return to action.
The Houston-Golden State series, which also resumed last night (Wednesday) in Oakland, was led by the Warriors, 3 games to 1. A Warrior victory pits them against the winner of the Trailblazers versus Clippers series.
Answering questions about the temporary loss of Curry, Warriors forward Draymond Green stated, “At the end of the day, one thing that we’ve always talked about is our depth. We gotta use that to win games.”
Head coach Steve Kerr, given the NBA’s Coach of the Year award this week, stated, “I feel awful for him. He’s been healthy all season. The playoffs start, and a couple of fluke things happen.”
Even without Curry’s guard play during the second half of Sunday’s game, the Warriors were able to set a record of 21 threes, a first in a playoff game.
“Whether Steph’s here or not, we should perform at a high level, which we did for much of the game,” said Kerr, also acknowledging and emphasizing his team’s need to eliminate some of their mistakes.