Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
LOS ANGELES -- While the Lakers were commemorating their history Friday night by hosting the Warriors at the hallowed Forum, the Clippers were christening their future across town.
Blake Griffin took the floor at Staples Center in his first official game as a member of the Clippers. When Griffin entered the game at the 1:45 mark of the first quarter, the Clippers home crowd -- beleaguered after suffering through a 19-63 season in 2008-09 -- rose to its feet with a rousing ovation.
Their prized rookie was keyed up, partly from sitting on the sidelines during training camp most of the past 10 days with a bruised left patella, and partly from having to watch the first ten minutes of action from the bench ... so to speak.
"I didn't even get a seat," Griffin said. "I had to sit on the floor."
Seniority rules on the Clippers bench -- even for the No. 1 draft pick.
Once he checked in, Griffin attempted six field goal attempts, all of them in the second quarter. The rookie was on the receiving end of three ferocious fast break dunks. He finished with eight points in 21 minutes.
Griffin's most exciting sequence of the game occurred when he deflected a Portland entry pass, tumbled over the scorers table to tip it back into play, leaped back over the table to steal the pass, ignited the break, only to lose the ball on a behind-the-back dribble.
"I was trying to hustle," Griffin said with a sheepish smile. "I went into the stands, came back, the ball came right to me, then I messed it all up with a turnover."
It was the sort of play that signaled to the crowd that it was watching a very special rookie ... but a rookie just the same.
"Probably a little too ambitious," Griffin confessed, before stipulating, like a 10-year veteran, "but he actually fouled me."
Griffin's outside game Friday night was less refined. He missed a couple of long attempts -- one a face-up jumper more than 20 feet from the hoop, the other off a pick-and-pop when he was left open from 17 feet.
Despite initial scouting reports this spring that insisted Griffin was a non-threat from beyond 12 feet, the rookie out of Oklahoma has shown an ability to drain long jumpers, both at Las Vegas Summer League and in full-contact workouts at the Clippers training facility.
"[The shot attempts] actually felt good," Griffin said. "The form, everything was good. That's a shot I've hit."
Griffin's range isn't the only part of his game that's evolving. Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy continued to experiment with his rookie at both forward positions.
"The fact that I can play him at two positions ... because of his I.Q. and his work ethic and wanting to learn, is big," said Dunleavy. "It always comes down to defending the 3, and I thought he did a very good job at that."
Adapting to the more dynamic NBA game will continue to be a learning experience for Griffin. In a well-spaced Portland halfcourt set in the third quarter, Blazers forward Travis Outlaw breezed by Griffin out on the perimeter for a clear path to the basket.
"It's different," Griffin said of playing the small forward position. "But if you do your work early, it makes it a little easier on you."
Griffin more than repaid the favor by helping to pace the Clippers fast break against a Portland team that prefers to play at a slower pace. The Clippers amassed 28 points in transition to the Blazers' six -- and the athletic Griffin had a lot to do with that.
The rookie also made two stellar interior passes when he was double-teamed in the post, both resulting in assists.
Griffin's motor runs fast. Both his encounter with the scorers table and a spill he took underneath the basket in the fourth quarter had the Clippers brass holding their collective breath. Gasping for air is something Clipper Nation is just going to have to live with.
"That's the only way I know how to play," Griffin said. "That's my m.o. That's what I'm going to do."