Can Chris Paul's injury save the NBA playoffs?
There are a few different ways to process the Chris Paul injury. First, you can look at the Clippers. They arrived in the playoffs with most of the league claiming they had to make a Finals run to keep their nucleus together. At the very least, the hope was that Blake Griffin could play well enough to maintain his trade value should things go wrong. Now, Blake is injured again, CP3 is out, and the season is likely lost. Not great.
Second, there's Paul's career, generally. One day I’ll write 10,000 words on Chris Paul and the cosmic unfairness of his NBA career and everything that’s gone awry for him in the playoffs. It almost defies belief. Is this all payback for the Julius Hodge incident? In this year’s version of The Universe Hates CP3, he was gifted with the clearest path to the Conference Finals he’s ever had, and eight hours later, it was gone. Like the Clippers’ outlook, thinking hard about CP3’s postseason history can take you on a dark, emotional journey.
But there's a third way to understand the Chris Paul news that’s a little more hopeful. It’s speculative, it’s rooted purely in emotion, and it almost feels wrong to mention it… But isn’t there a chance that this injury saves the playoffs?
Think about where we would have been with a healthy Clippers roster. CP3 would have beaten the Warriors. With or without Blake, the Clippers were excellent for the past four months. Chris Paul is Hall of Fame talented and too homicidally competitive to lose to Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. The games would’ve been ugly and hard-fought, but the outcome of that series would not have been in doubt for very long.
It would’ve been uncomfortable to watch. Every Clips win would have had a massive asterisk, and it all would have brought us deeper into the nationwide grieving process over Steph’s knee and the 73–win Warriors.
Compounding the awkwardness, the healthy Clippers would then advance, and they could play the Spurs or Thunder tight, too. Either matchup would’ve been close enough to demand our attention. And every time anyone turned to watch those games, the entire time, they’d be wondering how much better this could have been with a healthy Steph Curry.
Instead of that gloomy reality, we have a second chance at enjoying the playoffs. The Clippers rolling through the Warriors isn’t going to happen, and that’s a good thing for everyone but the Clippers.
It’s more likely now that we’ll get a scrappy Blazers team against the scrappy Steph-less Warriors, and that series will actually be pretty fascinating. Can Dame score enough to put a nail in Golden State’s coffin? Can Draymond and Klay step up on offense and to carry the Warriors? How much will the Oracle crowds help?
If the Blazers win and make the conference finals, it’s such a bizarre outcome that we don’t even have to worry about attaching an asterisk. It’s self-explanatory, and everyone can simply look forward to San Antonio or OKC in the Finals.
Or, maybe CP3’s injury really saves the playoffs. Instead of losing to the Clippers, the Warriors handle the Blazers in the first two games at Oracle. They steal one game in Portland, too, and come back to Oracle up 3–1. Do they hold Steph out in this scenario?
[enters time machine]
The Blazers win Game 5. Then it goes back to Portland, and Dame ties the series at 3–3.
Curry comes back for Game 7.
This is almost three weeks from now, and he roasts the Blazers.
Time for the conference finals.
Steph’s closer to a 100%, and the Warriors look terrifying again. Now the Spurs or Thunder are waiting, and whatever happens, there’s no giant asterisk next to these playoffs anymore. We all watch every second, and it’s wonderful.
[back to reality]
That’s all possible now, and it’s much better than the alternatives we were considering Monday afternoon.
Would it be even better with the healthy Warriors against the healthy Clippers? Obviously. Nobody’s cheering for injuries, and one day I will write an uncomfortably emotional tribute to Chris Paul and his losing battle with fate. But for the rest of basketball fans watching Lob City sputter out against Portland, wondering whether the playoffs have an injury problem, and cursing the Basketball Gods, it's worth remembering that the universe works in strange ways. This curse could be a blessing in disguise.