TUALATIN, Ore. — The Trail Blazers were able to wrap themselves up in another day of practice and preparation after making it a 2-1 series with a 96-88 home win Saturday over the Los Angeles Clippers.
But in the NBA, Sunday was far from just another day. The entire league awaits an MRI on the sprained right knee of Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who is a favorite to take home the MVP award for the second straight season, with nearly every team left suddenly seeing an opening.
And with that we return to a suddenly competitive Blazers-Clippers series, where the winner could have a lot more to play for, heading into Game 4 at the Moda Center and an imminent showdown with the Warriors next round.
The winner of this series could see their chances greatly increase in the next round, especially for the veteran Clippers and Chris Paul, who could reasonably see a path to the conference finals where they’ve never been.
The Blazers were already expecting the more experienced Clippers to give them their best shot after a bad Game 3 before the Curry news and now, that will likely ring double as the Clippers can see their California nemesis to the North wounded.
“We expect them to be themselves and to be at their best,” Damian Lillard said of the Clippers. “Last night they fought. It wasn’t an easy game, it was a really tough game to win last night. It’s harder to do it again against a team as good as they are. Understand the things that we did well and try to do those things better. And understand they’re going to come with it.”
Blake Griffin has gone 9 of 28 from the field in Game’s 2 and 3 and the Blazers don’t appear to be changing their scheme against him primarily involving Al-Farouq Aminu.
Part of that could be due to an increase in physicality from the Blazers, something Mason Plumlee noted jumped from Game 1 to Game 2 and carried over into Game 3.
“I would say the biggest jump in physicality would be between game’s 1 and 2,” Plumlee said after a dominating 21-rebound, nine-assist performance on Saturday. “We lost but we played well and we got a lot of really good looks. We played physical and that’s what it’s going to have to be the whole series.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers thinks the time Griffin missed in the regular season with a broken hand, a quad injury and a suspension isn’t helping.
“You don’t miss three months of basketball then come back and be great,” Rivers said of Griffin. “There’s going to be nights he is going to struggle during this run. But like I said before the playoffs, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Rivers bemoaned his team’s lack of physicality and commended the Blazers for being the “tougher team,” no doubt a way to light a fire under his team.
They needed something because so far, the Blazers are shooting 26.9 percent from distance in the series, which is the second-lowest percentage in the playoffs.
Aminu is 4 of 20 and Allen Crabbe has still yet to hit a 3-pointer. Aminu and Crabbe joined Lillard and CJ McCollum to help make the Blazers the only team to have four players make 110 3-pointers or more this season.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts thinks it will change and he has good reason to think so after the Blazers were fourth in the league in 3-point percentage this season.
“Yeah, it’s going to come around,” Stotts said. “Even last night we were 6 of 25, I do believe in the percentage, we’re due to break out from the 3-point line.”
If it does in Game 4, the Blazers may be able to assure themselves one more home game and a couple of more days to get wrapped up in the process and ignore the outside world.