<
>

With a week in the books, the playoffs only offer more questions

play
Adande on Chris Paul: 'He's done' (1:16)

J.A. Adande believes the Clippers will be going ahead without Chris Paul for the remainder of the playoffs. Adande provides an update on Blake Griffin, who's status is uncertain for Game 5. (1:16)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- "He's done."

Two different people with the same two words on the same subject: Chris Paul.

It appears the broken bone in his right hand will keep Paul out for the rest of the playoffs. What does that mean? Well, if we've learned from this postseason, it's that we don't know what anything means. The terms are too subject to change.

The Golden State Warriors began the playoffs as the heavy favorites to win the championship. Then Stephen Curry slipped and sprained his MCL and suddenly we wondered whether the Warriors could beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the next round. And now with the Clippers tied at 2-2 with the Portland Trail Blazers, Paul out and Blake Griffin hobbled by an aggravation of his left quadriceps injury, we don't know if the Warriors will even face the Clippers in the next round.

Let's not forget, there's still work to do for the Warriors to finish the first round against the Houston Rockets, who overcame a 3-1 deficit last season to beat the Clippers.

How is it possible that we know less after a week and a half than we did at the start of the playoffs? There's usually a certain order to the NBA postseason, which tend to adhere to form. The best players and the best teams move on. Not now. These are a pencil-only playoffs. Too much has changed over the past two days to give anyone confidence about predicting the next two weeks or the next two rounds.

What's past is not necessarily prologue, either. Last year, the Clippers split two playoff road games that they played without Paul. But that was with Griffin playing at a superstar level. Now Griffin can't even guarantee he'll play at all in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

"I'm not sure," Griffin said. "Tomorrow, I think we'll take a better look and hopefully go from there."

Asking Griffin to reproduce his 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists from Game 1 of last year's Rockets series is probably asking too much. Asking him to match his 19-12-6 line from Game 1 of this series with Portland could be a stretch. On Monday night, he tried to take off the way he used to, when he dunked on people with reckless abandon. He got fouled by Mason Plumlee, didn't come anywhere close to throwing the ball through the hoop and soon found himself rubbing his quadriceps on the sideline and even heading back to the locker room to get checked out. He returned to the game, but his gait was noticeably affected.

The harsh reality for the Clippers is that even when Paul and Griffin were on the court together in Game 4, they were always a step behind the Blazers. This young Portland team is settling into the series. The Trail Blazers won Game 4 because no one tried to do too much; they just took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to them. Al-Farouq Aminu finally punished the Clippers for leaving him open by making six of his 10 3-point shots. C.J. McCollum scored 19 points on 13 shots. Plumlee served as the release valve when the Clippers pressured Damian Lillard, facilitated the offense from the middle of the floor and had 10 assists to go with his 14 rebounds. Ed Davis grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench.

It remains to be seen if the Trail Blazers can play this well on the road, just as it remains to be seen if the Clippers will completely fall apart while their two stars are ailing. (After all, the Warriors won a playoff game that Curry didn't start, and Golden State played its best quarter of the postseason after Curry went down in Game 4.)

"Obviously, people are going to write us off," Jamal Crawford said. "But what are you going to do? Are you going to fight or run?"

That's the primary decision -- and, really, the only one that matters. Doc Rivers said he didn't even know what lineups he'll go with for Game 5, in part because he's unsure of Griffin's availability. In a sense, it's almost futile -- an exercise in the existential predicament to ask him who will fill in for Paul.

"There's nobody, probably, in the league that's going to replace Chris Paul," Rivers said. "So there's nobody clearly on our team that's going to do it. As a group, everybody pitches in."

That's as honest an assessment as you'll ever hear from a coach whose own son is on the point guard depth chart. Family takes a back seat in the playoffs. Paul once said he'd hit his own mother if she were on the court trying to stop him.

"Your moms?" I asked him later

"Hey, she knows," Paul said.

We know how badly Paul wanted to end the narrative of his second-round playoff ceiling. We know what he did to carry the Clippers into the fourth playoff seed without Griffin for three months. And now we know his team will have to win without him.

The current conditions are the only certainty we have. What comes next in these ever-changing NBA playoffs feels more unpredictable than ever.