LOS ANGELES — Neither individual heroism nor collective resilience could put the Los Angeles Clippers into the second round of the NBA playoffs.
The loss of 6-foot-10 forward Blake Griffin cast a pervasive shadow on the Clippers' hopes. Griffin's playoffs ended when he injured the plantar plate in his right big toe during Los Angeles' 111-106 victory over the Jazz in Game 3 of the seven-game series April 21.
"You're talking about an All-Star, a first-team All-NBA caliber player," said Clippers forward Paul Pierce, who ended his 19-year career with Sunday's 104-91 loss. "Just imagine the Houston Rockets without James Harden or OKC (Oklahoma City) without (Russell) Westbrook.
"That's tough to battle around. You have to play near-perfect to win when you lose a piece like that."
Before sustaining his injury in the second quarter of Game 3, Griffin averaged 20.3 points and 6.0 rebounds. But the five-time All-Star's value extends beyond statistics.
"Blake could take the ball off the board and go," guard Jamal Crawford said. "That forced everybody to run and that's where you get your easy baskets. When we lost Blake, we lost another guy to push the ball."
When Griffin got the ball, his unique combination of size and agility could prove devastating.
"With Blake, he creates mismatches," Crawford said. "Smaller guys, he can take into the post. Bigger guys, he takes them outside. When you have somebody that dynamic on the floor, it works to your advantage. We missed a ton with Blake."
Yet the Clippers won the game in which they lost Griffin, won Game 6 at the Vivint Arena on Friday night and held an 87-80 lead with 7:37 to play in Game 4 on April 23 before succumbing.
"I think just about every game in the series, other than today, came down to single possessions," guard Chris Paul said Sunday. "You know, it was a shot here, a shot there. We started scoring late in the game down the stretch, but we just couldn't get stops."
Paul's assessment of the series reflected head coach Doc Rivers' opinion.
"Not having Blake obviously is a major wound when you take your best scorer, your second-best rebounder and your second-best passer off a team," Rivers said. "But give Utah credit. We fought our butts off but, I mean, they won the series. I thought it was a well-played series. It was just hard-nosed, physical, tough basketball the way we all like it."