The framed photo seemed to be taunting the Clippers as it hung in a hallway next to their practice court.
It featured a smiling Blake Griffin and Chris Paul from a few years ago, a reminder of happier times for the franchise’s star duo as they sat in front of a banner bearing the familiar blue NBA playoffs logo.
The 2016 playoffs will go on without them.
In about the worst news the Clippers could have envisioned Tuesday, the team announced that Griffin would miss the rest of the playoffs and Paul had undergone surgery and was out indefinitely. Both players were injured a day earlier during a playoff loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Fiascoes have become a springtime ritual for the Clippers. They have endured collapses in each of their last three trips to the playoffs, along with the banishment of owner Donald Sterling over racially offensive comments. Now they head into Game 5 of a deadlocked first-round series on Wednesday night at Staples Center without their two best players.
“It’s bum’s luck three years in a row,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “What can you do? All you can do is you’ve just got to keep going.”
Griffin aggravated a partially torn left quadriceps tendon that had sidelined him for 45 games, though an MRI exam Tuesday revealed no further structural damage. The power forward is expected to be ready for the start of next season but will almost certainly sit out the Olympics in August.
Paul broke the third metacarpal in his right hand during a freakish play in which his hand got caught in Portland guard Gerald Henderson’s jersey. Dr. Steve Shin performed surgery on the bone, which plays a crucial role in gripping a basketball and controlling the trajectory of shots.
Neither Shin nor the Clippers estimated how long Paul might be out. Dr. Alidad Ghiassi, assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at Keck Medicine of USC, theorized that the span would be at least four weeks. That would mean Paul would be sidelined until the Western Conference finals, though the Clippers are no longer prohibitive favorites even to win their first-round, best-of-seven series, which is tied at two games apiece.
Ghiassi, who did not examine Paul, said the point guard’s surgical procedure could slightly accelerate his recovery timetable by allowing him to start therapy earlier than he would have by only resting the hand.
“It’s not as long as I think some may think it would be,” Rivers said of projections for Paul’s return. “That’s the good news, but we don’t know how long yet.”
The absence of Paul and Griffin for the foreseeable future was the only certainty facing the Clippers. Rivers said he was contemplating 10 different lineups going into Game 5, though the team’s game notes listed guard Austin Rivers and forward Jeff Green as the probable replacements for Paul and Griffin.
Griffin and Paul are both under contract for one more season and hold player options for 2017-18. Doc Rivers acknowledged before this season that another playoff failure might force him to consider whether the team should break up its core, but it was not immediately clear how the injuries might affect his thinking.
Rivers said his team’s style of play would change for the rest of the playoffs.
“There’s a big consensus of going really big and there’s one of going really small,” Rivers said. “We’ll have to figure that out.”
Rivers said the Clippers should benefit from having installed the motion offense this season because it helped them score whenever Paul was off the court by emphasizing ball movement and allowing anyone on the court to initiate plays.
“Thank God we did that,” Rivers said, “because now, playing without him, we’ll be in motion for 48 minutes.”
The Clippers also got some practice with reserve-heavy lineups late in the season while resting the majority of their starters. They pushed Oklahoma City to the final seconds in a loss, defeated Utah in overtime and faded in the fourth quarter of a loss to Phoenix.
“We have won games before without key guys,” said Rivers, whose team had a record of 30-15 without Griffin, “and I think we can win games in the future without key guys.”
Rivers said his team was adopting a game-to-game approach similar to the one it embraced during Griffin’s extended absence. The Clippers weren’t ready to concede there might be only two games left in their season.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself and you can’t let go of the rope right now,” shooting guard J.J. Redick said. “We have three games to win two and we have to figure out a way to do it.”
Redick has his own injury issue, hindered the last few weeks by a bruised left heel. He made a combined five of 23 shots (21.7%) in Games 3 and 4.
Redick said the vibe on the plane home from Portland late Monday night was typical of a playoff loss, not the end of a season. Not that it’s hard to envision the end being near.
“I get down for like five minutes, and I was [Monday] night,” Rivers said, “but you wake up in the morning and you feel like we’re going to find a way, and it’s my job to try to get them to feel like I feel. If we do that, I think we’ll have a fighting chance.”