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NBA Playoffs Limp On, Another Star Player Injured


The NBA playoffs roll on tonight or maybe we should say limp on. Last night, forward Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers became the latest star to go down with an injury. The Memphis Grizzlies took advantage of Griffin's absence and beat the Clips 103-to-93 to take a 3-games-to-2 lead in their first round series.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: What happened to Blake Griffin and, in fact, what's happening to all these top players?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, he actually sprained his ankle during practice on an off-day between playoff games. And he played a bit last night but had to leave game. I'm not sure even if he had stayed in if he could've stopped Memphis frontline of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph - they were dominant.

Your question: What's happening throughout the league? Hard to point to any trend. After lockout of 2011, there was concern that players had to rush into training camp. And once the regular season started, they weren't game-ready, so a lot of injuries resulted. This year, they've had a full season, full preparation in training camp. They can't use that as an excuse.

But it's startling how many stars in particular have gone down: Derrick Rose in Chicago; Rajon Rondo in Boston; Kobe Bryant, the L.A. Laker's; Danilo Gallinari, Denver; Danny Granger in Indiana. All were out before the post-season. And then in the playoffs, Russell Westbrook, a key member of the Oklahoma City Thunder; David Lee for Golden State; Jeremy Lin in Houston; and now Blake Griffin.

MONTAGNE: Well, obviously that affects the teams those players are on. But is it effecting the NBA overall?

GOLDMAN: You could say that. You know, you want to see teams competing at their maximum potential with their best players. On the other hand, it opens up the playoffs more. Suddenly, with Russell Westbrook out, Oklahoma City isn't a lock to win Western Conference, as many thought Thunder were. It also changes the dynamic of teams that were so reliant on a star - it gives other guys an opportunity.

Look at the playing time guard Patrick Beverly has gotten for Houston. He's a basketball nomad. He's played in Ukraine, Greece, Russia, the NBA D-League. Now he may start again tonight for the Rockets and if he does he won't get a warm welcome in Oklahoma City for game 5 versus the Thunder. In fact, he got death threats because he was the guy who ran into Westbrook causing Westbrook's season-ending knee injury.

MONTAGNE: And, Tom, heading into these playoffs, the Thunder were considered a bona fide title contender, until the Russell Westbrook injury. But they're just one win away from eliminating Houston and moving on. So reports of their demise possibly premature?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, they're playing a young and talented Houston team but one that's pretty inexperienced. The Thunder have been able to overcome Westbrook's absence by relying a lot more on their best player, Kevin Durant. But if they go on, it's going to be against better teams who can take advantage of Oklahoma City being down a superstar.

MONTAGNE: And Boston plays New York tonight. If the Knicks win, the Celtics are out. The Lakers are already out. That's two storied franchises not making it through the first round. What are we seeing here - a changing of the guard?

GOLDMAN: Yes, a little bit. You know, but the absence of the Lakers and the Celtics is hardly casting a pall over the playoffs. There are lots of fun, entertaining teams. Denver and Golden State, who are battling in a first round series. Denver won last night to cut Warriors' lead to 3-to-2. And Warriors have the breakout star of these playoffs in guard Stephan Curry. He's a shooting genius. The way he creates and puts up shots in traffic, unlike anyone. He's a dazzling offensive player and opponents know that.

After last night's game, Golden State coach Mark Jackson said the Nuggets played dirty and took cheap shots at Curry. So some bad blood percolating, which for basketball fans makes this juicy series even juicier.

MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.