-- A day after Stephen Curry's sprained MCL changed the complexion of the Western Conference playoff picture, it shifted again Monday night when Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul left his team's Game 4 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers with a fractured third metacarpal on his right hand.
Now, instead of hoping to face the Golden State Warriors without Curry for part or all of a potential matchup in the Western Conference semifinals, L.A. is fighting for survival.
Paul is out indefinitely, and surely won't be back for Game 5 in L.A with the series tied at two games apiece. The Clippers won't have forward Blake Griffin either, who is out for the playoffs after aggravating a quad injury. Can they advance without both stars? Let's run the numbers.
Clippers a .500-type team without Paul
As with the Warriors' performance without Curry, don't read too much into how the Clippers played with Paul on the bench during the regular season. (They were outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/Stats tracking, one of the largest discrepancies in the league from their plus-11.7 net rating when they had with Paul on the court.)
Because Doc Rivers likes to play his starters and bench separately instead of mixing them together, the team's performance without Paul mostly reflects the second unit's struggles. In 192 minutes without Paul when starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were on the court, the Clippers outscored opponents by 4.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBAwowy.com data.
That rating is probably a little generous because most of those minutes came during the five games Paul missed early in the season with a sore groin and inflamed rib cartilage. Four of those were games the Clippers hosted, though none of them were against teams that won more than 45 games. And, of course, the Clippers will still have to play their bench.
Clippers without Paul and Griffin
Just last year, the Clippers split two road games without Paul in the playoffs against the Houston Rockets when he was sidelined by a hamstring injury. In Paul's absence, Blake Griffin took on a leading role, combining for 60 points, 29 rebounds and 17 assists in those two games. That's why it was doubly painful for the Clippers to lose both stars.
The prospect of playing without them is daunting for the Clippers, who have done so just six times in the five seasons Griffin and Paul have been teammates. Most of those games were in situations in which the team was resting its stars, including three games late this season.
Real plus-minus ( RPM) projections for a Clippers team without both Griffin and Paul are pessimistic. They suggest L.A.'s offensive rating would be 2.4 points worse per 100 possessions than league average, better than just four teams during the regular season. And because the Clippers, without Griffin, would likely utilize smaller lineups that have struggled on the glass, their defensive projection gets worse too.
Overall, RPM estimates the Clippers without both stars would be about a 34-win team over a full season. And that doesn't even take into account that starting shooting guard J.J. Redick has been struggling with a heel contusion in this series, shooting 30.4 percent from 3-point range.
The one saving grace for the Clippers is that they'll have home-court advantage for what is now a best-of-three series, including a potential Game 7 at Staples Center. However, Portland is favored even in L.A. and is projected to win the series more than 60 percent of the time in computer simulations.
After Curry's MRI earlier Monday, the Clippers looked like big winners because of the potential to face a weakened Warriors team in the second round. Instead, because of their own injuries, the Clippers now may not even get that opportunity.