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Clippers

Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 98-84 loss to Portland

It’s that time of year. The Clippers Curse is back. How else can you explain the Clippers losing much more than a playoff game Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers? Chris Paul suffered a broken bone in his right hand, Blake Griffin experienced soreness in his left quadriceps tendon and J.J. Redick continued to struggle with his bruised left heel. Here are five takeaways from the Clippers’ 98-84 loss in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series that is now tied at two games apiece:

1. The Clippers must brace for the worst. Paul may be out for the series, if not the playoffs. Griffin’s chances of pushing through the soreness in his quadriceps tendon are unclear. Redick appears to be regressing because of the bruised left heel he suffered earlier this month, though he’s expected to keep playing. “Chris is taking this very hard,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s worked all year to get back to the playoffs and for this to happen to him, he’s a very emotional guy.” Rivers described a tender scene in which the Clippers squeezed into the trainer’s room to see Paul after the game. “It’s nice,” Rivers said, “but the reality is that you don’t have Chris Paul.”

2. What now? Remember those three recent games when the Clippers kept most of their starters home and trotted out a lineup of almost exclusively reserves? They could come in handy. The Clippers pushed Oklahoma City to the final seconds in a loss and beat Utah before fading in the fourth quarter of a loss to Phoenix.

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“We have to take a very collective approach,” Redick said. “Everybody has to do a little more. I mean, we’ve been in this situation before. We played for a lot of stretches without Blake this year. I’m not saying he’s going to be out, but he’s obviously feeling something in his quad and two years ago or three years ago we had to play without Chris. And last year in the playoffs, the first two games in Houston we had to play without Chris, so we’ve done this before. It’s got to be a collective effort.” Rivers said he was contemplating multiple changes in his lineup to provide a scoring boost. One idea would be to start Jamal Crawford at point guard and Jeff Green at small forward or Green at power forward if Griffin is unable to play. Crawford has averaged 29.2 points in the five games he’s started this season. Backup guard Austin Rivers will need to step up, and expect to see much more of third-stinger Pablo Prigioni.

3. It’s a rough year for point guards in the Western Conference. Memphis’ Mike Conley was out with an Achilles’ injury well before the playoffs started and his team was swept in the first round. Golden State’s Stephen Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court Sunday in Houston and suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee that’s expected to sideline him for at least two weeks. And now Paul goes down with an injury that could spell the end of his season. “You never want to see one of your brothers go down, especially like that at this point of the season,” Crawford said. “It’s different if it happened the first week of the season, but at this point of the season you want everybody healthy and feeling good on any team. You don’t want to see anybody go down, so it’s tough.”

4. The Clippers weren’t playing well even before Paul went down. The first half was best captured by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan’s trip to the free-throw line after being intentionally fouled late in the second quarter. There was one airball. Then another. Misses were a theme for both teams. By the time Crawford’s leaning jumper missed everything except the backboard late in the first quarter, Clippers not named Paul were shooting a combined 0 for 13. Jordan finally broke that spell when he dunked with 1:43 left in the first quarter. Portland couldn’t fully capitalize because of its own sloppy play.

The Trail Blazers led, 47-43, at halftime after shooting only 35.7% and committing 12 turnovers. The Clippers contributed to the latter category with nine steals in the first half but were shooting 33.3% at that point, with Paul having cooled considerably after he made his first six shots. He missed his final five shots before halftime. The Clippers also sagged in the fourth quarter with Paul out and Griffin playing only 1½ minutes, getting outscored, 32-20. Was the absence of their top two players too much to overcome? “It certainly was deflating,” Redick said, “but I don’t think that had anything to do with us making a few game-plan errors down the stretch that allowed them to open it up. I think from my perspective, we played extremely hard. We were terrible on offense tonight, couldn’t really get anything done on that end, but played really hard tonight. When you’re close at the end and you make a couple of game-plan mistakes, it will bite you.”

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5. Can the undermanned Clippers win Game 5 on Wednesday night at Staples Center? They have to believe they can or the series is over. “We’re going home,” Doc Rivers said. “All they’ve done is win two games at home just like we won two games at home. We’ve been in adverse situations all year with guys out, but guys have come through and I expect us to do that at our place.”

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch


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