Injuries aren't supposed to mar the NBA Playoffs, but year after year they do. Last season, injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving left the Cleveland Cavaliers at less than full strength. Before that, Russell Westbrook going down ruined any chance of the Oklahoma City Thunder had of winning a title. Going even further back, an Isiah Thomas ankle injury kept the Pistons from winning their first title in 1989.
Injuries are a fact life and a part of the sport, but it doesn't make them any easier to accept. And after Chris Paul left the Los Angeles Clippers' Game 4 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers with a third metacarpal fracture in his right hand on the same day Stephen Curry was diagnosed with a sprained MCL, all that's left to do is feel bad.
For the Clippers, this was their chance to break through. With Curry out for at least a few games of their series against the Golden State Warriors, they were on the right side of luck. Instead, they now look worse off than the Warriors.
While Golden State was able to rally behind their injured star against a Houston Rockets team that seemingly wants nothing to do with the playoffs, the Clippers are facing a young and hungry team in Portland that is going to take advantage of the opportunity that has been put in front of them.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are going to go at the Clippers, and, should they advance, they're not going to slow down against the Warriors, either. They should do that. They should make the most of the chance they've been given.
The Clippers are lost without Paul, and on top of that they have a hobbled Blake Griffin doing his best to make a difference -- but it's not working.
The worst part about injuries is that this seemed like it might be the last rodeo for this version of the Clippers. If they couldn't advance to the Western Conference Finals once more, would they blow it up? While fans and bloggers can speculate, the Clippers are going to face a tough decision moving forward. Paul turns 31 soon, and while he has showed few signs of slowing, should the Clippers keep this core in tact while the Warriors and Spurs pull away in talent and execution? Did Paul's injury end their last shot?
Like the Warriors, all they can do now is wait and hope. Should the Clippers somehow win two of three against the Blazers, it will be depleted roster against depleted roster in the second round against the Warriors. At least it would be fair.
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What about the Blazers?
When news of Stephen Curry's knee sprain rippled through the NBA, nearly everyone had the same question: Can Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers finally advance past the second round? But what about the Portland Trail Blazers?
They're now two wins away from advancing and are facing two teams that are without their star point guards. This team wasn't even supposed to make the playoffs, now they might be the favorites to advance to the Western Conference Finals. And why not? Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are ready to play with anyone -- now they're getting a chance to prove it on the national stage. While bad luck can end historic seasons before they're finished, they can also lead way to new superpowers. The Blazers have an amazing opportunity in front of them. Will they take advantage?
Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin are a force
Walker went off for 34 points and Lin added 21 off the bench as the Hornets once again shut down the Heat offense on their way to an 89-85 win to even the series at 2-2. And while holding the Heat under 90 points for the second straight game was important, it was the clutch buckets from Walker and Lin that saved the Hornets' season. Lin scored the Hornets' first 10 points of the fourth, and Walker brought them home.
Because of the heroics, the Hornets are heading back to Miami not only with all of the momentum, but with the game plan to keep it. The Heat have yet to find an answer to the Hornets clogging the lane, and unless they start hitting some shots -- they were 39.5 percent from the field on Monday -- the Hornets will continue to control the series.
Don't make Russell Westbrook mad
Before Game 5, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban thought it would be a good idea to say Westbrook isn't a superstar. Westbrook proceeded to go off for 36 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Mavericks, 118-104, to take the series, 4-1. Westbrook and Kevin Durant may not end up winning a title together, but saying Westbrook isn't a superstar is false.
The Mavericks should be happy this series is over, even if it meant they had to listen to Westbrook and Durant eviscerate them in a postgame press conference. Look out, Spurs, the Thunder are on the warpath.
Play of the night
It's nothing pretty, but giving Mason Plumlee play of the night is an excuse to show off how great of a game he played. Plumlee became the fifth player since 1984 to record a double-double in the playoffs without scoring 10 points. Plumlee had two points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists to join Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Jason Kidd and Mark Eaton.
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