Los Angeles Clippers star forward Blake Griffin was integral to his team's success during the regular season, and if he is forced to miss Game 6 due to an ankle injury, Lob City will be ousted from the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies.
According to Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Griffin left Game 5 against the Grizzlies on Tuesday night during the third quarter. The Grizzlies ultimately won their third consecutive game in the series and now hold a 3-2 lead. Griffin's status for Friday's Game 6 is uncertain and could doom L.A.
Griffin reportedly suffered the high ankle sprain during Monday's practice when he landed awkwardly on Lamar Odom. Griffin decided to give it a go anyway, but he moved gingerly for much of the game and wasn't as explosive as usual. Griffin may not be the same for the rest of the playoffs, but simply having him on the floor is an advantage for the Clippers.
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro was mum on whether or not Griffin would be able to play in Game 6, but he seemed dejected after the game and said that Griffin's ankle sprain was "pretty bad" and that there was "a lot of swelling."
If Griffin doesn't play in Game 6, then it will be nearly impossible for the Clippers to match Memphis' imposing interior presence. The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol has been dominant for the Grizzlies during this series, as they are averaging a combined 39 points and 16 rebounds per game against an over-matched Clippers frontcourt.
Griffin isn't going to stop them regardless, since he isn't a strong defensive player. However, he is capable of battling them on the boards and answering on the offensive end. Without Griffin the Clippers have essentially no offensive production in the paint, as DeAndre Jordan is more of a defensive stalwart and Odom is much better as a role player of the bench.
The likes of Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins figure to get increased minutes if Griffin can't go, and there's little doubt that Randolph and Gasol would eat them for lunch. The Clippers could also go small with Matt Barnes and Caron Butler on the floor at the same time; however, it would be really tough to neutralize the Memphis bigs that way.
Although point guard Chris Paul is the Clippers' most valuable player, it can be argued that Griffin is even more important in this particular series because of the Grizzlies' rebounding and interior scoring acumen. Even with Griffin the Clippers were bullied in Games 3 and 4, so it's tough to imagine them pulling off a win in Game 6 with Griffin on the shelf.
High ankle sprains tend to be very tricky, so Griffin will have to improve significantly in order to be ready for Friday's game. His ability to push off is compromised, so his leaping and above-the-rim game won't be the same in all likelihood. The Clippers are in a bad way whether Griffin plays or not, but they would obviously rather have him out there.
If nothing else, having Griffin on the floor would probably give the Clippers a bit more swagger and confidence in a huge playoff road game. Being without one of their two superstars would inevitably be deflating. The Grizzlies have all the momentum in this series and the Clippers need to swing it in their direction. Something as simple as Griffin playing through the pain could help in that regard.
It remains to be seen if Griffin will suit up, but based on the fact that he wasn't able to finish a Game 5 of the utmost importance, the odds don't appear to be in his favor. The Clippers are on the ropes and it will be extremely tough for them to come back against the Grizzlies like they did last season.
Provided Griffin can't play and the Clippers are eliminated, it will be a huge disappointment for the No. 4 seed. With Russell Westbrook injured in Oklahoma City, the Denver Nuggets on the brink of elimination and the San Antonio Spurs relying on older players, it looked like the Clippers stood a decent chance to win the Western Conference.
The chips are definitely stacked against them at this point, though, and barring a miraculous recovery on Griffin's part, the Clippers' playoff run could very well come to an end on Friday night.
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