Winners don't always get to celebrate in the playoffs

— -- Over the weekend,  Clippers coach Doc Rivers distilled the NBA playoffs down to two words, a logical little oxymoron that only makes sense after you think about it: "enjoyable misery."

What better way to explain how the Golden State Warriors could seize a 3-1 series lead over the  Houston Rockets behind a playoff-record 21 3-pointers, only to have their star player in tears and their coach looking as glum as someone who realized he'd left a winning lottery ticket in the pocket of his recently laundered pants?

How else to explain why the team that could benefit the most from Stephen Curry's sprained right knee seems bogged down by issues of its own?

What better term to explain how two coaches who could take as much pride in their players' performances as anyone were on the wrong end of first-round sweeps?

How else to describe the frustration of the Atlanta Hawks finally getting a response in their ongoing audition for a superstar, only to fail to convert it into a victory?

Such are the cruel twists of the playoffs that the team that just finished winning at a historic rate has just suffered the biggest loss of the playoffs.

Curry's injury alters everything, even before we know the full extent of the damage to his knee. And in the most ironic twist, Rivers -- whose observations about luck contributing to the Warriors' 2015 championship helped fuel Golden State's drive to 73 wins -- could be the one to benefit the most from their reversal of fortune.

If the Rockets continue to show disinterest in exploiting Curry's absence, the Clippers could end up using it to open a path to the first conference finals appearance in franchise history. Of course, that would require the Clippers to reverse their own weekend setback, the not-ready-for-next-level performance in Game 3 of their series against Portland.

This is a group that has never taken the short path to victory, with their past three series victories each requiring the full seven games. It's a group that is still re-integrating Blake Griffin and must again treat DeAndre Jordan's free throw shooting as a serious impediment to winning.

The Trail Blazers trailed late in Game 3 when they sent Jordan to the line on two consecutive possessions by fouling away from the ball. He missed all four free throws, the Blazers converted on their end and went from down one to up three.

Then the Blazers even fouled him with the ball with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in the game, when an away-from-the-ball foul would have given the Clippers a free throw plus possession. Jordan split the throws that time, giving the Clippers a point with a stopped clock four seconds into their possession, but is Rivers willing to gamble that Jordan -- a 43 percent free throw shooter during the regular season who is shooting 35 percent from the line in the playoffs -- will continue to deliver in that situation?

The simplest solution would be to play Griffin at center, but the Clippers have had little experience with that lineup since Griffin missed three months of the season due to injuries and a suspension. They also can't be sure of what to expect from Griffin eight games into his return.

He had 19 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists, and he was plus-21 in 32 minutes on the court in the series opener. In the two games since, he has totaled 24 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists. The jumper he worked so hard to develop over the past few years has abandoned him; he has made only 25 percent of his shots from beyond 16 feet during the playoffs, according to

Mix the Griffin from Game 1 with the steady, stellar production of Chris Paul, and the Clippers can absolutely beat the weakened Warriors. Especially because they wouldn't have to worry about their biggest problem against Golden State: Curry's ability to neutralize their best defender, Jordan.

When Jordan stays in the paint on screens for Curry, it allows the Warriors superstar uncontested 3s. If Jordan comes out to challenge Curry at the 3-point arc, it opens the lane for cutters to run to the basket without fear of Jordan's shot-blocking prowess.

As well as Golden State reserve  Shaun Livingston has played in Curry's absence, he doesn't put Jordan and the Clippers in that specific predicament.

Of course, dealing with all of these issues is actually a privilege.

For one thing, it's part of the grueling playoff process that makes prevailing so rewarding. As Portland's C.J. McCollum said after accepting the Most Improved Player award, "It means a lot to struggle."

Ongoing issues means ongoing seasons, which is more than the Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons have.

The Spurs completed their inevitable sweep of the Grizzlies on Sunday, and Memphis coach Dave Joerger got emotional not because of his team's failure, but because of its continued effort after injuries robbed them of the chance to truly compete.

The Pistons were even more competitive, with two of their losses coming by a total of seven points. They just showed the difference between well prepared for the playoffs, as Stan Van Gundy had them, and being ready for the playoffs. The Pistons simply didn't have the experience or the star power to take out LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Atlanta's Paul Millsap morphed into the superstar the Hawks have sought for decades on Sunday, scoring 45 points in Boston to bring to mind the 47 their last true superstar, Dominique Wilkins, put up for them in old Boston Garden in 1988.

But it was undone by the Celtics' "E pluribus unum" approach. First by Marcus Smart's defense on Millsap once he took over the assignment, then by the Celtics' determination to work for the best shot while the Hawks were content to fire up quick 3-pointers.

Does that mean the old playoff code is cracked -- that the mantra that the best player on the court wins and the belief that the playoffs are the province of superstars no longer apply?

That would actually be a timely bit of encouragement for the Warriors, who are about to go without the player who was the best of them all during the regular season. Somehow they didn't seem to find that prospect too enjoyable.

It was a miserable weekend, even by playoff standards.