Los Angeles Clippers: Dunk
January, 31, 2012
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- There are, at most, a dozen players in the past three decades who have any idea of what it feels like to be able to do what Blake Griffin did to Kendrick Perkins Monday night.
To be able to jump as high as he can. To be able to take contact like he can. To take a moment near the top of his leap, look out over the rim, down at the hapless defender, and know that what comes next is going to make all 19,404 people in the arena lose control of themselves. Not to mention what it did to the Twitterverse.
Afterward, when the reporters come calling at his crowded locker, Griffin will say things like, "It was a great pass, he hit me in stride and fortunately it went in." He will mean all of those things, because he actually is that self-effacing and humble.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Thunder's Kendrick Perkins is going to see this frame for some years to come.
But when no one is looking, or maybe, when he lets his guard down for a minute, a little bit of what's really going on in his head will come out.
"I looked up at the replay, I'm not going to lie, I did look up," Griffin said in a quiet moment after the crowd had cleared.
"I got lucky."
We've known each other long enough that he expects me to roll my eyes and give it back to him after a comment like that. It goes back to his first season, when he spent most of the year forcing himself to watch every game, but wanting to throw something -- anything -- at a wall when the Clippers would fall behind and he could do nothing to help as he sat in street clothes with a broken kneecap.
As frustrated as he was with missing his rookie season, with delaying the start of his NBA career, the hardest part was always dealing with the losses. During road games he would head to the Clippers' training facility and watch the game while shooting free throws off one leg. It's probably just a coincidence that his free throw shooting is still so bad.
I bring this up because Griffin is only half-kidding when he says he got lucky on his latest epic dunk.
The last time he did something like that, his Clippers were going nowhere fast. His dunk over New York Knicks center Timofey Mozgov in November 2010 might have been a coming-out party of sorts for him, but it came in a game the Clippers lost, which dropped them to 1-13 on the season.
"After that New York game last year, the excitement around here might have picked up," Griffin said. "But unfortunately we didn't win a lot of games."
Since then, everything has changed. The Clippers and Griffin got both very good, and very lucky about six weeks ago when they acquired Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets after a previous deal with the Los Angeles Lakers was rejected by NBA commissioner David Stern.
The timing of the deal was as good as Paul's timing on the pass that set up Griffin's monstrous dunk. So yes, in a way, Griffin did get lucky.
For as long as he plays, he will always prefer to focus on the pass that set him up rather than the dunk itself.
"That's just who he is," Clippers forward Brian Cook said. "He is always going to be this way and play this way."
Griffin knows how good he is, of course. But he also knows how much better he can still be. So when he says things like, ''I don't like to celebrate after plays like that. There's a lot of game left," I don't roll my eyes at him.
But when the room clears and he finally turns on his iPhone after the game, it's clear it meant a bit more to him than he is letting on.
"Mike Tyson just direct messaged me [on Twitter]," he said, a little embarrassed to be sharing.
And what did it say?
All around the locker room his teammates were still trying to find words to describe his thunderous dunk on Perkins.
"I don't know what it feels like to dunk like THAT on somebody," said Griffin's high-flying teammate DeAndre Jordan. "That was crazy. I'm still kind of in shock that it happened."
Jordan is Griffin's best friend on the team. He's kind of like his exuberant alter ego. The guy who emotes what Griffin has to be feeling, but is too serious and intense to let out.
"I probably would've started smiling if I was him," Jordan said. "But that's the goofy side of me. I probably wouldn't have been able to hold it in."
In this case, Jordan literally held Griffin in after the dunk. He bear-hugged him so tightly Griffin could hardly breathe.
He knew he'd done something special. That this dunk was more than just a good dunk.
That he would take a little extra satisfaction in it after the game.
"It's funny, I was watching 'SportsCenter' this morning and they were showing LeBron's dunk from the other night and some other dunks. And one of the guys said, 'I didn't really like the Mozgov dunk because he didn't really dunk it,'" Griffin said, still deciding if he was going to go all the way with this story.
"I guess this one was for him."
Griffin laughed at himself and the moment of self-satisfaction he had revealed. He wasn't relishing in it, just laughing at himself a little.
Which is probably the best way to describe what being able to do something like what he did to Perkins truly feels like.
One mountain scaled, the next one in sight up ahead.
"That was definitely a statement dunk," Jordan said. "A lot of people try to foul Blake before he takes off because they don't want to get dunked on. Or they try to foul him hard so he won't dunk on them again, but he's relentless."
Down the hall in the Thunder locker room, Perkins was taking his fate like a man. He'd tried to foul Griffin hard. Tried to send a message that there would be no easy dunks on his watch. Maybe even tried to fight back a little in a game in which the Thunder were started to get worked pretty good.
Griffin had won this round, but give Perkins credit for taking him on.
"Well, it happens. I mean, at the end of the day, if you're a shot-blocker, you're going to get dunked on," Perkins said. "It was a great play he made. Obviously, I wish I wasn't in it, but it was a great play, definitely.
"To be honest with you we've had the No. 1 easiest record in the NBA. This really was our first real test ... the first elite team we've played."
You get the feeling after talking to both sides that this one's going to come up again. This is only the beginning of what's going to be a heck of a rivalry in the Western Conference for the next few years.
Griffin may have won this one. But Perkins just served some notice that it's never going to be easy.
Here's guessing that's exactly the way Griffin likes it.