The trade brought a glaring spotlight and high expectations for Paul and the Clippers, and for Griffin in particular. He already was a TV star and an NBA All-Star, but the arrival of Paul, and later of Doc Rivers, have made the pressure to deliver on his full potential greater than ever.
Turn on the television and you’re bound to see an ad starring Griffin as the pitchman for Kia, Gamefly, Red Bull or Jordan. He’s the Peyton Manning of the NBA, but has yet to win a title to underwrite his popularity.
And the difference has sometimes made Griffin a target, of dubious fans and pundits, and of players opponents who relish challenging him on the court with physical play.
It’s a reality he must live with until he does something about it or trusts officials to regulate any extracurricular activity. He did the latter on Christmas Day and ended up being ejected for being on the other end of flagrant fouls from Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut. The league later apologized for the ejection after the Clippers lost the game.
“Perception,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Everyone is a target at some point in their career, they really are, and you just play through it. Blake is starting to get to the point where he’s letting his game show. You can keep bumping me and hitting me and I’m going to drop 20 and 14 on you and eventually it will go away and it will.”
Griffin’s game has blossomed this season under Rivers. His mid-range game is vastly improved; he is shooting 62.5 percent (10 of 16) just inside the left corner three and has hit 5 of his 9 three-point attempts from the left and right corners. Griffin has also hit 77% of his free-throws this month and hit 12 straight on Saturday when he had 40 points and 10 rebounds. Over the past two weeks, Griffin is averaging 26.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 53.8% from the field and 80.6% from the free-throw line.
“When your numbers start talking, all that other stuff will go away and we need to win more,” Rivers said. “We need to be a winning team instead of a talked about team. All of that has to happen. It’s a long process.”
Griffin understands the process and knows perceptions of him aren’t going to change after a good game or a good month or a good first half of the season. He’s enjoyed all of the above before during his career. The best way to change perception is by winning in the playoffs, which is what Rivers is trying to build towards.
Until then, the perceptions will remain the same, although Griffin doesn’t mind dealing with the ones he’s dealing with now compared to the nonexistent ones he had when he first came into the league.
“In my rookie year when we weren’t winning games and no one really cared,” Griffin said. “But now when you play teams, everybody cares and everybody is trying to win. That changes things a little bit.”