Even after Chris Paul left midway through the Clippers’ Monday night win against Oklahoma City, his team fared just fine. The 120–98 win over the Thunder was L.A.’s seventh straight win. The team’s last loss, also against the Thunder, coincidentally, was in 2016. But that loss was the cap to a six-game skid, five of which came while Paul was sidelined with a strained hamstring. So, today’s revelation that Paul’s thumb injury will require surgery and cause him to miss six to eight weeks likely means that the Clippers are in for a rough stretch.
Blake Griffin’s knee surgery in mid-December left the Clippers rudderless. The team had been struggling even at full strength, losing six of their 12 games before Griffin’s injury. But recently, Paul had righted the ship. In the five games since his return from his December hamstring injury, Paul had been shooting .531 from the field and averaging 11 assists per game as the Clippers have tallied the league’s longest active winning streak.
Griffin’s recovery time after his surgery was anticipated to be four to six weeks, putting his expected return at the end of January, but the Clippers may want to rush him back given their poor performances last month without either Paul or Griffin on the court.
Since the 2013–14 season, the Clippers have earned a 18–17 record in the 35 games they’ve played without Paul. But, in those games, when Griffin has played, they’ve gone 15–10. It’ll be tough for the Clippers to keep pace with the West’s top tier with Austin Rivers or Raymond Felton at the point, but the team would have to play exceptionally poorly over the next two months to drop from the playoff picture.
That’s to say nothing about the team’s future. If this season fails spectacularly, Griffin and Paul both have early-termination clauses in their contracts if they decide to leave after the season is over.
If you’re not a Clippers fan, this could actually end up being an interesting experiment (and I’m not even talking about the possibility of an UBUNTU reunion). Point Blake™ will have no shortage of minutes until Paul’s return. But, realistically, the team’s odds of contention will drop off sharply when they have to play out of the bottom half of the playoff bracket.