|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
|Foul trouble limited Blake Griffin to just 19 minutes in Game 1. Can he flip things around this time?|
LOS ANGELES - Blake Griffin was supposed to be resting. Even if the NBA rescinded his 16th technical foul of the season, relieving him of a suspension in the Clippers' regular-season finale, it was more important to the team that Griffin use the 48 hours before Game 1 of their first-round series against the Warriors to heal the myriad things that hurt an NBA power forward's body by the end of the season.
Unlike some players, you have to tell Griffin to rest. And even then, there's no guarantee he'll abide.
In this case, there was no chance.
"We called in and the report was he was in the gym working out at 9 a.m.," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said, smiling. "I'm like, 'That's not exactly resting. ... But that's Blake.' "
In the nine months since he joined the Clippers, Rivers has come to understand what the franchise has known since a personality test they gave Griffin his rookie year pegged him as a classic perfectionist: When there is uncertainty, he fills it by working.
Rivers used to coach another guy like that in Boston. Griffin is a little easier to be around than the maniacally intense Kevin Garnett. But the personality type is the same, and Rivers has applied many of the same remedies with Griffin this season as he used to help direct Garnett's energy.
"There were times I had [Garnett] sit in my office before games because I thought he was just too uptight," Rivers said. "I wouldn't talk to him. I'd just sit there and go about my business. It was like you were putting him in a timeout. After two or three minutes, he'd get it. ... He'd be mad because he was sitting there, and then all of a sudden you could just see him release."
Rivers won't reveal the specific techniques he's used with Griffin, but whatever's been said or done has gotten the best out of him. All that talent the NBA fell in love with in Griffin's rookie season has developed into elite-level production. He finally seemed to be in control of all the power and passion that made people compare him to a young Karl Malone when he first came into the league. When the MVP results are announced in a few weeks, Griffin will likely be among the top five, perhaps higher.
But as any perfectionist will tell you, no job is ever really finished. And after Griffin's foul-plagued, 19-minute game in the Clippers' 109-105 loss at home to Golden State in Game 1, the chorus of doubters assembled quickly to sing a familiar hymn.
About Griffin. About the Clippers. About Chris Paul. It's funny how quickly public perception can change in the playoffs. Even after you break through and prove how much you've grown, one game, one play even, can erase it all.
Griffin was effective in the 19 minutes he did play, finishing with 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting with three rebounds and three assists. But he got too aggressive on a couple of early fouls -- perhaps trying to prove a point after the sabre-rattling these teams have engaged in -- and then not aggressive enough as he tried not to foul.
"I actually thought two of his fouls came from not trying to foul," Rivers said. "You can see, he's trying to stay out of the way.
"That's human. When you get those two early ones, the game goes bad for you. ... Your rhythm is messed up."
|Spilling water on a Warriors fan may be Blake Griffin's most memorable moment from Game 1.|
Rivers said that Sunday after watching the film. But Saturday night, after the game, the enduring image most had was of Griffin accidentally pouring water on a Warriors fan behind the Clippers' bench after a questionable foul took him out of the game in crunch time.
Some of that is social media. But enough of it is true for any player or team with aspirations as high as Griffin and the Clippers' to pay attention. "We talk about breathing a lot to our team," Rivers said. "In huddles, 'Just breathe, please.'
"But it's just learning. And I think it's learned through stress. I've found that the deeper you get in the playoffs, the more you can learn it. It's hard any other way."
Of all the things Rivers has done for the Clippers this season, just knowing that he's been there before and been hardened by that kind of pressure has given players such as Griffin and Paul the most peace.
But sometimes it takes longer to settle in than you want or think it should. Sometimes it just takes one game to find your flow again. It happens all the time in big fights -- after all the hype and hoopla, the fighters kind of paw nervously at each other for a couple of rounds.
As he processed the loss and prepared for Monday night's Game 2 at Staples Center, it appeared as if Griffin had taken a few minutes to breathe.
"With our situation, we've put ourselves in a hole and we need to fight. More so for ourselves than anything," he said. "I think sometimes you want to win so badly that you maybe try to do a little too much sometimes. We're all guilty of that. But I think we just got away from it. I'm not sure exactly where or exactly why. I think we just got away from it.
"I don't think it really matters if you've been in a situation before or not. If you have to be in a situation before to know how to come out and play hard, then you've already lost. We should be ready.
"We're looking forward to it."