Can the Clippers Beat the Jazz Without Blake Griffin?
The Los Angeles Clippers have been a dominant team in the regular season over the past five years. Except for a lockout shortened 2011-12 campaign, they've won at least 53 games each year and have a combined winning percentage of .657 with a core group of Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.
This success just hasn't translated to the postseason.
During this same time, the Clippers have won just three total series and have never reached the Western Conference Finals. Unable to put their troubled past behind them, Los Angeles has once again gotten struck by the injury bug. In Game 3 of their first-round matchup against the Utah Jazz, Griffin went down with a toe injury and was eventually ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Even after dropping Game 4 in Utah and the series now being tied at two games a piece, our models still give the Clippers a slight edge to move on. How could that be without such an important piece to their puzzle like Griffin?
The Post-Blake World
The Clippers are clearly a better team during the regular season when Griffin is healthy and on the floor, and it's not very close. As seen in the table below, Los Angeles sees a significant drop in effective field goal percentage (eFG%), total rebounding percentage (TRB%) and assist rate (AST%) when he's on the sideline.
The power forward was also an asset according to our nERD metric, which measures how many wins above (or below) a player is worth to their team, based on efficiency. He posted a 7.3 nERD this season and was the key offensive anchor next to the more defensive-minded Jordan, as he spread the floor with his passing ability and efficient shot selection.
His value during the regular season is obvious, but during this first-round matchup with the Jazz, it's been a different story.
While the Clippers are still better in total rebounding percentage and assist rate with him, there is a noticeable decline in effective field goal percentage.
There's also a decrease in offensive rating -- L.A. has produced a 114.8 mark without Griffin on the floor in this series, but just 109.8 with him. At first glance, one could point to the nature of their first-round opponent as a factor for these drops.
The Jazz usually like to play big with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, and these twin towers are the perfect recipe for Griffin to struggle in the paint, which is a spot on the floor where he typically thrives. However, Gobert got hurt 17 seconds into Game 1 and only returned to the court after Griffin went down with his own injury.
Instead of feasting on a frontcourt consisting of Favors and Boris Diaw, Griffin struggled in Games 2 and 3. He did score 20 points in each contest, but was very inefficient, shooting under 50.0% both times.
Are the Clippers truly better off in the long run without Griffin moving forward? The numbers point to yes, but it's hard to tell because we're dealing with a small sample when just considering their first-round matchup with Utah. The on/off splits from the regular season are indicators that he just had a couple rough nights and Los Angeles will indeed miss his presence on the court.
The Clippers could still have an edge here because they own home-court advantage moving forward. In the current format of the NBA Playoffs, the team holding that edge is 18-4 when the series is tied heading into Game 5. Even if Griffin had never gotten hurt, our models would've still projected them to win the series, with only a difference of about three percentage points.
Either way, the winner of this series will have to face the Golden State Warriors, who are fresh off a historic offensive performance. If the Clippers can slip past Utah, how they perform in that matchup will be the true test.