Chris Paul's Injury Shakes Up the Western Conference Playoffs
It was just another play...
...until it wasn't.
This two-second play was all it took to crush the dreams of Los Angeles Clippers fans and alter the 2016 NBA Playoffs for good.
This simple swipe at the ball was all it took for Chris Paul to fracture the third metacarpal in his right hand. And sources close to the situation say that the veteran floor general is "most likely" out for the remainder of the playoffs.
So, what significance did this one play have not only on the Clippers' playoff run but also the rest of the NBA's round-by-round outlook?
At the time, the Clippers, down just three with 6:33 left in the game, still possessed a 51.45% chance of winning Game 5 (according to numberFire Live) and going up 3 to 1 on Portland before heading back to Los Angeles.
But after that rebound, Paul injured his hand, and it wasn't until Al-Farouq Aminu nailed a three-pointer (giving Portland a 58.74% chance to win and a 58-52 lead) that the Clippers could call a timeout and get Paul off the court.
After Paul (not to mention Blake Griffin's brief trip to the locker room) exited the game, it took the Blazers a mere four and half minutes to pull ahead to a seven-point lead with a 66.93% chance of evening up the series.
From that point on, they didn't look back.
As this win-probability chart shows -- after the benches had their run prior to the fourth quarter -- Portland did nothing but climb the ladder to a 14-point victory.
With the series tied at two games apiece and Paul almost certainly finished for the playoffs let alone the series, here's how the odds have shifted.
|Outcome||LA in 5||LA in 6||POR in 6||LA in 7||POR in 7|
|Before Game 4||39.65%||25.43%||5.82%||21.01%||8.09%|
|After Game 4||N/A||39.07%||12.99%||33.60%||14.34%|
These changes might not seem like much, but on a grander scale the Clippers' odds of winning the series dropped from a hair over 86% to a touch above 65% while the Blazers' probability of pulling the 5 over 4 upset more than doubled from 13.91% to 34.7%. That's how much Paul's leadership has meant in the first three games of the series.
Bad news for LAC? In first 3 games of this series, Clippers are +37 with Chris Paul on the court and -4 without him. pic.twitter.com/cqa0RC7Goq
— ESPN (@espn) April 26, 2016
Now that it all comes down to the last three, Portland, with over a quarter of a chance to take the series, could be in great shape if Griffin is also ruled out for Game 5 -- if not the rest of the first round.
And if the Trail Blazers can advance, they'll likely take on the Golden State Warriors, who will be without their own star point guard, Stephen Curry. While our numbers give them only a 4.15% chance of winning the conference semifinals, that is more than double what it was before their Game 4 win.
Hey, who knows what could happen!
The Big Picture
That same phrase seems to apply here.
Since Steph Curry went down with a knee injury in Sunday's game against Rockets, the numbers indicate that the Warriors are just another contender in the race for an NBA title, therefore cutting into their status as clear-cut favorites.
The Warriors' chances of repeating -- if Curry can't return -- would fall by more than 22 percentage points while five other teams would see their own odds rise by at least a full percentage point.
But, how does the most recent point guard injury affect them and the rest of the NBA in the pursuit of an NBA championship?
Here's the impact -- if Curry does, in fact, come back to the playoffs:
|Championship Odds||With Paul||Without Paul||Difference|
|Golden State Warriors||30.99%||34.92%||3.93%|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||7.17%||7.79%||0.62%|
|Portland Trail Blazers||0.13%||0.21%||0.08%|
|San Antonio Spurs||29.57%||29.15%||-0.42%|
|Los Angeles Clippers||5.29%||1.71%||-3.58%|
If Paul can't return to the floor, this does nothing but minimize the blow Golden State's chances took when Curry was ruled out for two weeks himself. There's two reasons for this.
First, the Warriors (with or without Curry) might not have to worry about the Clippers and their ability to match up starter-for-starter if the Blazers emerge from the first-round matchup.
And second, if the Clippers manage to get by without Paul, the Warriors certainly won't miss facing him and his averages of 24 points and 7.8 assists against them this year.
Also of note, as the Warriors' chances have risen, the Thunder's and Spurs' have been mostly unaffected -- mainly because they're on the other side of the Western Conference bracket.
However, it is interesting that the Thunder's number rises as the Spurs' takes a minuscule drop.
I suspect that that's mainly due to the fact that the Spurs have gone 1-3 against the Warriors this year in comparison to 2-1 against the Clippers, a matchup that we are all but guaranteed never to see again this season.
So, Warriors fans can rejoice. Just as injury takes, it also gives back. You're once again the definitive championship favorites.