Well, it was nice while it lasted.
The Los Angeles Clippers announced Friday that increasingly fragile point guard Patrick Beverley will be out at least three to four weeks with a fractured left hand.
The injury occurred in the fourth quarter of L.A.’s physical victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, and marks the third instance this season that Beverley, a three-time All-Defensive selection, will miss significant time due to injury. His progress will be evaluated in May.
Left knee soreness forced Beverley to miss eight games in January/February, and the same issue put him on the shelf for 12 games beginning soon after the All-Star break. Thursday’s go-round with the Suns was just Beverley’s second game back after his most recent time off.
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This is What a Silver Lining Looks Like
The Clippers will certainly miss Beverley’s high-octane harassment and commitment to the cause. But the reality is, they’ve played without him much of the season and done just fine. Sporting a top-three offense and a defense that has been elite of late even without Beverley, it’s far more important to have Beverley’s relentlessness in the playoffs than in the rest of the regular season, which, for the Clippers, is the second-softest remaining schedule in the league.
Also, the recent trade acquisition of playoff guru and gun-for-hire Rajon Rondo has given the Clippers a huge safety net. So long as Reggie Jackson can stay healthy and continue to play very solid ball, the combo of Rondo and Jackson should allow L.A. to continue their mission to take primary ballhandling responsibilities off of Paul George’s and Kawhi Leonard’s plates.
Not to mention, the brief return of Beverley had pulled minutes away from guards Terance Mann and Luke Kennard, who were already squeezed by the addition of Rondo. The claustrophobic backcourt, as it stood, meant Mann and Kennard would have fewer and fewer chances to sharpen their teeth before the playoffs.
With Beverley out, however, Mann and Kennard are back in the picture and give the Clippers additional firepower. Before Beverley’s return, over the last nine games, Mann had averaged 13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while shooting 52% on field goals and bringing a slasher’s mojo to both sides of the court. Kennard registered 10.8 points on 52.6% from three in a similar span, and his ability to catch fire from deep and mid-range is not something commonly associated with Beverley.
Position is More Important Than Ever
Telling of Beverley’s toughness and demeanor, when the eight-year veteran broke his hand Thursday, with 7:34 remaining in the fourth, he didn’t immediately pull himself out at the next stop. Instead, he waited to take an obvious hard foul on Chris Paul—a not insignificant elbow and hip check as Paul was in the air—which was what forced Beverley to hit the showers early, not the injury.
Patrick Beverley got ejected after throwing an elbow at Chris Paul. pic.twitter.com/UnCU7zkH1v
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 9, 2021
Even outside of that incident, the game was contentious and physical throughout—more playoff than regular-season. With good reason, too. The Suns are second in the Western Conference standings, followed closely behind by the Clippers, who are being similarly tailgated by several legitimate contenders including the Nuggets, Lakers and Trail Blazers. (Dallas isn’t looking too shabby, either.)
Aside from the normal compulsion to get a higher seed, there is a special imperative this season not to be in the middle of the pack come playoff time. The now-injured Lakers (no Lebron James, no Anthony Davis) will likely be back to full strength by the postseason—but in a far lower seed than they would be without the injuries.
That means that in a nightmare scenario (perhaps for both teams) the sixth-place Lakers, ahem, the defending champion Lakers, would play the three-seed Clippers in the first round. Not easy to say who would win, but surely the loser would not deserve to go home so early.