The Los Angeles Clippers still have home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, but it feels like the latter is in control.
Portland evened the series at 2-2 on Monday with a 98-84 victory, but the Clippers lost more than an individual contest. Superstar point guard Chris Paul fractured the third metacarpal on his right hand, per Rowan Kavner of Clippers.com, and will likely be out for extended time.
Los Angeles had NBA title aspirations entering the playoffs, but those took a hit with Paul’s injury. Suddenly, beating the Trail Blazers in the first round appears to be a monumental task.
As for Monday’s game, Al-Farouq Aminu led the way for Portland with 30 points and 10 rebounds. ESPN Stats & Info noted the 30 points were a career high for Aminu, who picked an ideal time as his team seized the momentum in the series:
We’ve got ourselves a series
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 26, 2016
He wasn’t the only Trail Blazers player to notch a double-double, as Mason Plumlee grabbed 14 boards and dished out 10 assists from the center position. C.J. McCollum added 19 points, while Damian Lillard chipped in with 12 points, six assists and six rebounds.
Blake Griffin and Jeff Green each scored 17 points for Los Angeles.
The Trail Blazers controlled the first quarter and looked like a team that was fighting to avoid a 3-1 deficit on its home floor. However, Portland allowed the Clippers to close an early 20-12 deficit to 24-20 by the end of the quarter even though Paul was the only one consistently scoring. Paul scored 12 of his team’s 20 points in the opening 12 minutes.
Jason Quick of CSNNW.com realized things could have been worse for the Clippers:
A wild and wacky first quarter ends: Blazers 24, Clippers 20. All things considered, a victory for the Clippers.
— Jason Quick (@jwquick) April 26, 2016
The teams played an even second quarter, and Portland entered the locker room with a 47-43 lead at halftime. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian pointed out Los Angeles missed an opportunity to take the lead during a critical stretch:
Clippers had a chance to take first lead. But Jordan airballs 2 FTs, Aminu hits a 3, Dame has a driving dunk and Blazers now lead 42-36.
— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) April 26, 2016
Neither team was impressive from the field in the first half. Portland shot 15-of-42 (35.7 percent), while Los Angeles was 14-of-42 (33.3 percent). The two sides also combined for 17 first-half turnovers, and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times thought “their preseason game was more crisply played.”
Mike Richman of the Oregonian echoed that sentiment:
DeAndre Jordan air balling two free throws isn’t close to the worst display of basketball in this half.
— Mike Richman (@mikegrich) April 26, 2016
Los Angeles trimmed the gap to two points early in the third quarter, but Aminu and McCollum scored to quickly make it 55-49. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register recognized a familiar blueprint:
#Clippers get close, POR hits a shot, LAC makes a mistake, POR scores. Repeat for the last like 25 minutes
— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) April 26, 2016
The game took a backseat in the third quarter, when Paul suffered the injury.
“Paul [is] headed back to the locker room,” Woike noted. “He looks like he knows it’s not good news as he walks off the floor.”
With Paul sidelined, Aminu drilled his fifth three-pointer of the game and then found McCollum for another triple to open up a 64-58 advantage. Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report had some fun with Aminu’s sudden surge from downtown:
Crazy how Al-Farouq Aminu is the best shooter in the NBA now.
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 26, 2016
However, the Clippers got some momentum back when Green connected on a long-range shot at the buzzer to close the Portland lead to 66-64 heading into the final 12 minutes, via NBA on TNT:
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 26, 2016
Trail Blazers reporter Casey Holdahl reflected on the finishing sequence in the third quarter:
Feels like the Blazers had a bit of a letdown with CP3 out. Has to be the exact opposite if they want to even this series up.
— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) April 26, 2016
Even after the three by Green, ESPN Stats & Info did not paint an encouraging picture for Los Angeles entering the fourth quarter: “Clippers outscored opponents by 553 with Chris Paul on the floor and were outscored by 202 with Paul off the floor in [the] regular season.”
The pattern continued when Portland opened up a 77-68 lead after a Maurice Harkless basket with less than eight minutes left. McCollum then sent the crowd into a frenzy with a crucial three-pointer, via the NBA:
— NBA (@NBA) April 26, 2016
Lillard pushed the lead to double digits, 84-72, with a three-pointer with less than six minutes left, and it appeared as though Griffin was also laboring with a quad injury. David Aldridge of NBA.com thought Clippers head coach Doc Rivers should have cut his losses, especially after Paul’s setback:
Doc has to take Blake out of the game. If it’s bothering him this much, you don’t want him making it worse.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) April 26, 2016
To the Clippers’ credit, they cut the deficit to 86-79. However, Aminu hit another shot from long distance, and Allen Crabbe converted in the lane to push it back to 91-79. Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago commented on the sudden turn of luck for the visitors:
Man. About 8 hours ago the Clippers were feeling pretty good about things. What a difference
— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) April 26, 2016
From there, the Trail Blazers went on cruise control to tie the series with the 98-84 win.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Los Angeles, and the series has taken on a new feel after Paul’s injury.
Outside of Paul’s setback, Portland has momentum after two straight victories. However, the Clippers can take solace in knowing the home team has captured every game in the series thus far, since they still have Games 5 and 7 in Los Angeles. Of course, the Clippers’ first two home wins came with Paul leading the way, which means Portland has a golden opportunity to earn a victory on the road against a short-handed foe.
Paul’s injury isn’t the only one lingering over the series. The winner will likely play the Golden State Warriors, who will be without Stephen Curry for at least two weeks after he suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain Sunday, per Warriors PR.
While the injuries are unfortunate, the Trail Blazers have a chance to get past the short-handed Clippers and Warriors to potentially reach the Western Conference Finals.
First, though, they have to figure out a way to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles.