Blake Griffin playing at career-high level

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
12:43
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- It took longer than expected, but for the first time in the 195 games he has played as Chris Paul's teammate, Blake Griffin reached the 40-point threshold.

The fourth-year power forward carried the Los Angeles Clippers' offense in their 98-90 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at Staples Center, scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter and 26 overall in the second half by using a bevy of post moves and face-up drives to overcome the Jazz's beefy yet undersized frontline.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin scored 40 points in a win over the Jazz and is experiencing one of the best stretches of his career.
For the third time in four games, Griffin scored 32 points or more, which marks the only time he has done so in his career. According to Griffin, this could be the best he has ever played.

"It might be," Griffin said after the game. "The best part about it is that we've won games, obviously besides those two [losses to Golden State and Portland that preceded Saturday's win]. I think I'm learning to take what the game gives you and not try to force anything -- besides tonight with those eight turnovers. I was going for that cripple-double."

Griffin's game-high eight turnovers were the only blemish on his stat line Saturday, as he recorded 40 points on efficient shooting (13-of-20 from the field; 14-of-17 from the free throw line), grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out 3 assists and had 1 steal and 1 block.

He bulldozed his way to the rim against smaller frontcourt players Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson, and then when Utah switched either 6-foot-11, 247-pound Enes Kanter or 6-10, 270-pound Derrick Favors onto him, Griffin managed to face up and back down both just as effectively.

"He was posting their 5 [Kanter]," coach Doc Rivers said. "It'’s a great example of where you have a game plan going in and it changes. We weren't going to put him at the 5. It was just an adjustment during the game. He did a great job."

The main adjustment the Clippers have made recently is asking Griffin to face up against his man more.

As one of the game's best passers and ball handlers at either the 4 or the 5 positions, Rivers says he feels Griffin should use his physical gifts and versatile skill set to attack players off the dribble, read how the defense reacts, and then make the right decision.

So, over the offseason, the two discussed Griffin's new role, and Griffin came away enthralled with Rivers' trust and belief in his ability.

"That was one of the first things that I talked to Doc about when we first met in his office," Griffin said. "He said, 'I want you to face up. If you want to face up 10 times out of 10, face up 10 times out of 10. You know, why not?' It's great to have that kind of confidence from a coach that allows you to do what you feel in the moment instead of just telling you what to do."

It sounds almost impossible, but Griffin says he has learned to play faster -- he suffered through bouts of ball-stopping and indecision his first couple of seasons -- while also playing smarter.

"I think the biggest difference is picking and choosing your spots," Griffin said. "When to use certain moves, when to be aggressive right away, when to take your time, when to look for a pass. It's really about just reading [the defense] and being familiar with those situations."

Said Rivers: "We're getting him the ball in the right spots. We trust him. He's good. We want to feature him. ... He's a hell of a player. It'd be dumb if we didn't throw it to him, if you think about it. They started small, too, and we knew that coming in."

The person who has perhaps been most impressed with Griffin's play is his teammate and fellow leader and superstar, Paul.

In particular, Paul enjoys the fact that Griffin has begun to command the ball more than ever before.

"He has the ultimate confidence right now, as he should, and we want to keep that," Paul said. "I don't know how to guard him, because if you back up, he's knocking it down. If you jam up, he's too quick for most big men, and now you're fouling him and he's going to the line. So you better trap him."

The evolution of Griffin's game this season is remarkable.

He no longer hesitates to shoot when open from 15 to 18 feet, has vastly improved his free throw shooting (77 percent this month), and has fine-tuned his post game to the point where national media critics have run out of things about which to criticize him.

It feels as if the 24-year-old is finally putting together his immense potential. When asked if this was the best he has seen Griffin play in their two-plus seasons together, Paul had no choice but to agree with Griffin and Rivers.

"Yeah, I think so," Paul said. "It's not even numbers-wise. I looked at the stat sheet after the game and said, 'Wow, he had 40.' I think his confidence right now is pretty high, and rightfully so. It's great to see how he's dominating the game, whether it's jump shots, or on the post, or at the free throw line. It's fun to watch."

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