Let’s just get this out of the way:
So that happened. In about a six-minute span, two injuries to the two players the Clippers can least afford to lose. But let’s shelve this nightmare for a moment and focus on the horror preceding it:
Glass Half Empty
What on earth happened in the first quarter? It was like the series rewound all the way back to Game 1, Quarter 1. Except instead of a storm of 3-pointers, the Grizzlies rode a deluge of points from their post players. 27 points to be exact (Yes, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol outscored the entire Clippers team by themselves). Barring the first half of Game 1, the Clippers’ big men have done a reasonable job denying Gasol in the post and pushing Z-Bo off of his favorite spots. But in the first half, the Grizzlies insisted like a nagging mother chiding her kids, dismissively and effortlessly. Gasol and Randolph picked apart the Clippers defense with crisp interior passing and timely, contested shots. They brushed aside any Clippers resistance as if it were child’s play.
On top of that, the entire wing platoon, the ‘Four Shooter’ of Mo, Caron, Foye and Young were awful. Beyond their ineffective shooting (combined 13-43 FGM-A), time and time again you would see hesitation on open shots (Foye), which would allow Memphis’ defense to recover. Or ill-advised shots (Caron/Young). Or heat checks every other shot (Mo. In his defense, he was shooting well early, but was clearly pressing late). The wings may have struggled because Hollins put Gasol on Griffin, decreasing the necessity to double-team every possession, but it also prevented the Clippers from effectively spacing the floor the entire game.
Glass Half Full
In a 9 minute stretch between the third and fourth quarter, the Clippers went on a 24-6 run to bring the game back within 6 points with 6 minutes remaining. And both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul were injured during that time. It has happened enough times that I think we can safely say the Grizzlies will struggle to score the ball for a period of time in games. And it’s also happened enough times where I think we can say the Clippers can tear off 20+ point runs against the vaunted Memphis defense.
As mentioned before, the guards and wings were terrible for the Clippers in Game 5. But they weren’t the only ones. Chris Paul had almost as many turnovers as assists (3 TO to 4 AST). And Blake Griffin was an ineffective 6-11 from the field for 15 points. The Clippers were basically awful for all of Game 5 AND WERE STILL WITHIN 6 POINTS TWICE IN THE 4TH QUARTER. There are no moral victories in the playoffs, but the Clippers can’t possibly be scared of a Grizzlies team that played their butts off and still couldn’t pull away. Especially when Game 6 will be at home where the Clippers and their role players have played better this series (and all season).
Shards of Glass
Which brings us back to the shelved nightmare: forget about Game 6 and glasses half full/empty, this cup barely holds water without Blake Griffin, much less Chris Paul.
(note: Let me briefly interject to say it wouldn’t kill people to wait a few minutes and mute their ‘booing’ to see if a player is actually injured. We all want our teams to win, but no one wants anyone hurt, right?)
I claim no medical knowledge but let’s parse out the injuries:
Griffin was declared to have a sprained left knee. That’s a relief considering how bad it looked at the time. A sprained knee is realistically about as good one could hope and, barring any structural problems in the MRI, Griffin could theoretically soldier on for Game 6.
Chris Paul’s strained groin was changed to a strained right hip flexor. I don’t know if this is any better but I do know that the strained right groin (adductor strain) is what Paul aggravated at Atlanta and kept him out of the finale versus the Knicks. So not re-aggravating an injury sounds more promising.
“Most often, a hip flexor strain can be confused with a groin strain (adductor strain). This is because the athlete will have pain on the anterior- medial hip. One differentiating factor is adductor strains cause pain with lateral movements (cutting), and hip flexor strains do not. It is possible to involve both muscle groups in an injury though. A quad strain will also present with symptoms similar to a hip flexor strain.”
Like any injury, it will largely depend on the severity of the strain and how an individual’s body recovers.
Something I do think should seriously be considered is the possibility of sitting Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for Game 6 to maximize their recovery time. If Paul and Griffin are only 70%, is that good enough to beat the Grizzlies at Staples? If it isn’t, would they even heal enough in an extra couple of days to be able to win a Game 7 in Memphis? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. Much like everything else this season, I can only put my faith in Chris Paul making the right decision.