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It's Hard to Tell If Blake Griffin's Injury Ruins Or Improves The Clippers’ Playoff Chances

For now, let's just enjoy what the Clippers can accomplish with the ball in Paul's hands.
Blake, on potentially one of his last goofy-ass follow-throughs for the Clippers. Photo by Jeff Swinger—USA TODAY Sports

Even after their opponent's franchise center (the Jazz's Rudy Gobert) went down in the opening minute of Game 1, for what feels like the 450th season in a row, the Los Angeles Clippers are doomed with an injury of their own.

A toe injury will keep Blake Griffin out for the remainder of the playoffs, a devastating blow to a team that came into the postseason playing some of their best basketball of the year.


Yes, there are bigger-picture questions at play, considering Griffin can become an unrestricted free agent in July and might have just played his last game in a Clippers jersey. But first, let's get into the short-term aftermath.

Thanks to Chris Paul's aggressive Game 3 reminder that he's a perennial MVP candidate, the Clippers beat the Jazz despite Griffin playing only 18 minutes. L.A.'s star point guard dropped 34 points, including 13 in the final 8:44. He was sublime, surgically gutting Utah's conservative pick-and-roll defense with shifty yo-yo dribbles and a pull-up jumper you can set your watch to.

In the moment, it was hard not to draw a connection between Paul's masterpiece and Griffin's injury, harkening back to a question that pops up whenever the five-time All-Star is injured for an extended stretch: Are the Clippers better off without Griffin?

The answer should be easy, and to some it is. But it's not obvious. Yes, removing someone as skilled and dynamic as Griffin will reduce any team's depth—their ability to attack in various ways, with less predictable and more overpowering options.

But all year long, the Clippers have been damn good when Paul is on the floor without his banner-sharing teammate. According to, their offense would still rank first in the league and Paul's game improves in just about every area when he's Griffin-less.

Griffin's skill-set still inspires awe, but it's also dangerously close to becoming a relic. While his outside shot has gotten better (he was 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in 99 playoff minutes), defenses now encourage him to shoot. They don't fear it, which cramps the floor more than if he were replaced with a more lethal outside threat.

Now that Griffin is out for the postseason, the Clippers will likely replace his typical two or three post-up possessions that lead to nowhere with their bread-and-butter: high pick-and-rolls with DeAndre Jordan driving through an open paint and Paul marionette-stringing defenders with his persuasive eyes and devilish handle. Not a bad option.

The problem, however, comes when Paul and Jordan rest. Instead of having the option to stagger his star's minutes, Doc Rivers now must turn to… a comatose Wesley Johnson? A moldy Brandon Bass? A disintegrating Paul Pierce? Extended minutes for the ever one-dimensional Marreese Speights? Will they go small against a Jazz team that's had decent success playing Joe Johnson at power forward? What if Utah packs the paint and Paul's jumpers don't fall? Who's the second option?

Even if the Clippers revolve everything around their floor general and center, more is needed to dethrone the heavily-favored Golden State Warriors in Round 2. Griffin was the principal reason for optimism on both ends. In theory, he's strong enough to attack Draymond Green when Golden State goes small, and springy enough to switch out on shooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Without him, the Clippers are much easier to scout and dissect.

The Clippers can survive the rest of their first-round series, sure. But without Griffin's star power providing a (small) puncher's chance against Golden State, it's likely they'll fall sooner than later. Until then, let's just enjoy what they can accomplish with the ball in Paul's hands.