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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 5 Preview

After taking Games 3 and 4 at home, the Blazers have evened up their first-round playoff series with the Clippers at two wins apiece, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 tonight. With injuries derailing the Clippers, momentum is on the Blazers' side.

No Blake, No Paul, Things are not looking great for Doc Rivers and the Clippers
No Blake, No Paul, Things are not looking great for Doc Rivers and the Clippers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday, April 27
Staples Center | 7:00 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD, NBATV; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder) | L.A. injury report: Chris Paul (Out - Broken Hand) Blake Griffin (Out - Quad)
SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation .

What a difference a week makes. The Blazers have turned two consecutive 20-point losses and an 0-2 series hole into a 2-2 series tie and at the same time, have arguably become the favorites to take the whole series.

If this comes as a surprise to you, you clearly haven't followed this Blazer team very closely. Surpassing expectations and making projections look ridiculous has been the theme for most of the year. After their 98-84 victory over the Clippers in Game 4 on Monday, the Blazers have put themselves in a great position to take a series that many thought was a task much too difficult.

Unfortunately for basketball fans, this momentum swing has to do with more than just the Blazers' change in play on the court. The Clippers received terrible news that their best player, point guard Chris Paul, broke his hand on a routine play in the third quarter of Game 4. He will be out the rest of the series and possibly the rest of the playoffs. Less than 24 hours later, the Clippers received news that All-Star forward Blake Griffin is also out for the remainder of the playoffs due to a left quad injury that kept him out of 43 games this season and prevented him from getting back fully into game-shape. He re-aggrivated the injury in Game 4 and was unable to continue.

Injuries are part of the game, and they always will be, but as a professional basketball player myself, I can say that injuries are easily the worst part of the job. Chris Paul has carried this team in both the regular season and during this series, and whether you cheer for his cause or not, it is tough to see his season derailed like that. Blazer fans should be ecstatic for their team but an injury to any player, especially to a player like Chris Paul or Blake Griffin at this point in the season, is something to never wish on anyone. I think Blazers Edge's Eric Griffith described it best when he said "this is like the worst good day in Blazers history."

Griffin looked great in Game 1, posting 19 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. His ability to post up smaller guards on offense, help trap guards on defense, and his ability to make plays and pass the ball made him a matchup nightmare for Portland. But after the first game, Griffin shot 15-43 from the field, just a 35 percent mark, and averaged only 7.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists for the rest of the series. The Blazers made their defensive adjustments, keeping him away from the paint as much as possible, but he may have been feeling early effects of the quad injury as well.

Chris Paul had been averaging 23.8 points on 49 percent shooting with 7.3 assists, 1 turnover, and 2.3 steals per game this series, all while outplaying the Blazers best player, point guard Damian Lillard. Chris Paul's absence leaves a gigantic hole on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball for Los Angeles. He was their unquestioned leader on the court and off. After the game, the Clippers' locker room was very emotional.

When L.A. coach Doc Rivers was asked about how to fill that hole left by Paul, he replied, "There is nobody, probably, in the league that's going to replace Chris Paul, so there is nobody clearly on our team that's gonna do it. But as a group, everybody pitches in." (Keep in mind, this is the father of the Clippers backup point guard, Austin Rivers, saying this). The news about Griffin did not come out until the following day. Originally Rivers had Griffin at 50/50 for Game 5.

Injuries unfortunately do happen, but in no way do these injuries take anything away from what the Blazers did in Game 4, nor do they take anything away from any future success that Portland may have. Injuries do not add asterisks onto any accomplishments and they do not make a victory less meaningful. The Blazers will have earned anything that happens, good or bad, over the rest of the series. Portland won Game 4 because they were the better team. They did not finish inside very well and turned the ball over too much, but they dominated the rebounds, had more fastbreak points and, overall, just played a lot harder right from the opening tip.

Here is an example of the Blazers getting points just through hustle. This was only two minutes into the game while everyone was still fresh. When Lillard grabs the rebound, Maurice Harkless is near the baseline surrounded by other players. As soon as the rebound is secured, Harkless does not just run down the court, he sprints. Compare his reaction time getting down the floor when Lillard gets the ball with that of Griffin who starts right next to him.


Harkless earns the uncontested dunk through nothing but sheer effort. J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan are getting back in translation defense, but Mason Plumlee and C.J. McCollum are also hustling in transition and occupying both defenders, allowing Harkless to sprint by uncontested. Throughout the game, the Blazers made these effort plays, and it made all the difference

The Blazers did a lot of good things in Games 3 and 4, but they still have not won a game on the road, which they will need to do in order to win this series. Game 5 is vital for both teams. The winner of tonight's matchup will have a chance at home and on the road to close out the series, while the loser of Game 5 will have to win both. According to Whowins.com, the team that wins Game 5 in a 7-game NBA playoff series tied at 2 wins the series 85 percent of the time.

Tonight's contest will be unlike the first four meetings between these two teams. It is almost as if a new 3-game series has started with all of the changes that will occur from this point forward. The absences of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be the most notable differences. When Rivers was asked if his son Austin Rivers or NBA Sixth-Man-Of-The-Year award winner Jamal Crawford will start for the injured Paul, Rivers replied "I think with Chris out, we may have to make a lot of changes just to create more scoring."

This may mean that defense-first forward Luc Mbah a Moute could be switched out of the starting lineup for someone more offensive-minded - maybe even Paul Pierce. Jeff Green, who scored 17 points in Game 4, will more than likely replace Griffin at the power forward spot. The Clippers also could start Crawford, Rivers and Redick together if they were looking for scoring, or they could keep things simple and just swap Rivers and Green for Paul and Griffin. Whatever Doc Rivers decides on, the Clippers' rotation will be much different going forward. The Clippers are not a very deep team and may have to shake things up quite a bit. Whatever changes are made, expect the usage rates of Rivers and Crawford to be on the rise.

Strategically, it will be interesting to see how much the absence of Paul will effect the Clippers' defense. Lillard, although averaging 20.5 points per game in the series, has not played up to his normal standards. Aside from his 10-20, 32-point night in Game 3, Lillard is shooting just 31.4 percent from the field (17-for-54) during the other three games and 8-30 from 3-point range in the series as a whole. Lillard has being forcing tough shots and the defense of Chris Paul had a lot to do with that. Austin Rivers is a very good defender, but make no mistake - he is no Chris Paul.

The Clippers' on-ball traps on Lillard and the NBA's Most Improved Player award winner C.J McCollum were vital to the Clippers' defense in Games 1 and 2, but the Blazers have responded by putting Steve Nash Mason Plumlee around the free throw line as a quick outlet from the trap. From there he has done a great job picking apart the ensuing 4-on-3 advantage. This not only led to him tallying up 26 assists in 3 games (He averaged 2.8 assists per game in the regular season) but it has created open 3-point opportunities on kickouts from the paint, which are the highest percentage 3-point shot. The Blazers' shooters have capitalized, shooting better in Game 4 from behind the 3-point line at 41.9 percent, than from inside it at 40.4. The Clippers have yet to adjust.

Final Thoughts

The Blazers were predicted by most to win less than 30 games this season. Then they were supposed to miss the playoffs. They were definitely never supposed to be the No. 5 seed in the West. Damian apparently wasn't playing well enough to be a 2016 All-Star and now Terry Stotts missed out on the NBA's Coach of the Year Award. The Blazers have been under-appreciated and underdogs all year long and they have excelled in that role. Now, for the first time all year long, the Blazers can, arguably, be considered favorites to do something special. This is a new role for them and they need to embrace it. Even without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers are a prideful team with a lot of experience. They will not go away easy.

The brand new series begins tonight.