LOS ANGELES -- It should come as no surprise Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin is starting to feel the backlash this season of the fame and notoriety he enjoyed last season.
The only thing we like better than the story of a breakout player is the subsequent story of said player’s downfall. In the case of Griffin, it’s not so much a story of his downfall but how one of the most popular players in the league last season has turned into arguably the most polarizing one this season, at least amongst many of his peers around the league.
“I’ve heard that,” Griffin said with a smile after the Clippers beat the Sacramento Kings 109-94 on Saturday. “It’s not something I embrace or try to do. It just kind of happens. I’ve seemed to have had a good week as far as that goes.”
Griffin’s week included dunking on Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol so harshly on multiple occasions Wednesday night that the Lakers asked the NBA to review the plays. The league eventually decided Griffin’s third quarter shove from behind on Gasol deserved to be a flagrant-one foul.
“I don’t know about that one,” Griffin said about the league's upgraded foul. “I don’t know about that one. I felt it was kind of a nudge and then some extra after that. I just kind of sold it but if you send it in that many times and say enough about it I guess it forced their hands to do something.”
His week continued on Thursday night when he was called an “actor” by Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins after the two got into a shoving match and nearly traded blows.
“I first heard about it from my acting coach, he sent me an e-mail,” Griffin joked after Saturday’s game, responding to Cousins' comments for the first time. “He was obviously thrilled. It was a compliment. I guess he’s seen some commercials and stuff and I appreciate it.”
Everyone loves when Griffin quite literally jumps over players and humbles them on national television as he did to Timofey Mozgov, Kendrick Perkins and most recently Gasol. Well, everyone except for the players and teammates who Griffin victimized. It’s no secret that list of players continues to grow as does the resentment players around the league have for Griffin and his antics.
It’s not so much that Griffin dunks on players with the force, power and agility we haven’t seen since maybe Shawn Kemp was in his prime, but he follows it by often staring at the player he’s just dunked on and standing over them as if were a boxer after a knock out. It’s the equivalent of a hitter admiring his home run from home plate and then tossing his bat up in the air and skipping around the bases.
In baseball, they have unwritten rules about such unnecessary showmanship and the pitcher will usually enforce the rules with a pitch high and tight around the player’s helmet or backside the next time he is up.
There are no such unwritten rules in basketball but it seems Griffin is toeing the line before a player takes matters into his own hands like a pitcher who has just been shown up.
“People get tired of being on SportsCenter every night,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “He plays hard every night. He plays hard every possession. A lot of guys would love to be able to do what he does. Sometimes it’s other guys competing against him harder because they want that sort of same stature and status that he has. Sometimes it’s jealousy. You never know where it’s coming from.”
Against the Kings on Thursday, the ill will towards Griffin nearly came to ahead when Cousins and Griffin nearly went at it.
Calmer heads prevailed on Saturday night as Griffin and Cousins had a fairly uneventful game compared to Thursday’s physical affair. Griffin was called for a technical for arguing a call midway through the third quarter and was shoved to the floor later in the quarter by Kings forward Donte Greene on a breakaway where he hit an impressive off-balance shot that did not count. Outside of that it was a quietly effective night for Griffin, who finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, while Cousins finished with 15 points and 20 rebounds.
“We’re on national TV a lot. We’re one of the top draws on the road,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’ve seen it every game now. So a lot of things have changed – a lot more exposure, a lot more tension. So maybe that has something to do with it. It’s a physical game out there, Blake is a physical player. He’s going to attack the rim. I think he’s done a great job with his composure and his poise. As the season has gone on, I think he’s done a good job kind of getting a feel for that.”
What Griffin has not yet done a good job of is restraining himself from complaining about every call that goes his way. It’s an issue teammates and coaches have talked to him about through the season but a problem that continues to persist and has given him as bad a reputation amongst some officials as his post-dunk antic have amongst some players.
“It’s tough not to complain against a call you really feel strongly about and there has been a lot of those but I do have to do a better job,” Griffin said. “At this point certain people have your number and they’re kind of waiting and they won’t give you any leeway. The more I work on it hopefully the more leeway I get and it’s not called so tightly.”