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|Blake Griffin's skyrocketing rise to stardom is both unprecedented and deserved, and he should be an All-Star for it.|
After the game, as Griffin sat in the middle of the Clippers locker room, soaking his feet in a bucket of ice, a Clippers backdrop was placed behind him. The influx of new media covering the team has made it almost impossible for him to conduct interviews in front of his locker as he did at the beginning of the season, forcing the team to conduct these mini postgame press conferences for the past two weeks. The usually shy Griffin has even begun to warm up to all the attention; he is reading a book of jokes one reporter recently gave him. "There are some really good ones in there," Griffin said. "When I return from this road trip, I'll have a pocketful." In the Clippers' locker room, near the coaches' lockers, there is a dry-erase board with the league standings. Normally an 18-28 team, 21.5 games out of first place, wouldn't keep track of such a depressing thing -- but the way Clippers have played recently, they can finally start keeping track of such things. The Clippers' 105-98 win over Milwaukee on Monday night was their ninth straight home win, a team record and their longest streak since winning eight straight in 1993, and they are 14-7 in their past 21 games. It might not be enough to get the Clippers into the playoffs after their 5-21 start, which included losing their first 11 on the road, but it is proof that Griffin's impact extends past the box office and highlights and onto the court. When Griffin gets the ball in the open court, there is a collective buzz that goes through the crowd, as if Evel Knievel is about to perform a death-defying stunt. You don't know what Griffin will do, but you know whatever he does it will surpass your wildest expectations -- even if he's not successful. Griffin is perhaps the only player in the league who could compile a highlight reel of his missed shots and it would still rival the highlights of any player in the league this season. Not only has Griffin attracted sellout crowds to Clippers games, but he has also done something almost as unimaginable. He has forced Los Angeles fans to arrive in time for the opening tipoff, knowing a Griffin highlight could come at any moment of the game. Against the Bucks, one of Griffin's most picturesque dunks of the season came late in the first quarter when Griffin was all alone on a breakaway. Eric Bledsoe fed him the ball and Griffin finished it off with an emphatic windmill jam reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins in his heyday. Griffin had another breakaway dunk in the third quarter along with a myriad of other players during his 32-point, 11-rebound night (his 39th double-double this season, second-best in the league) which had scouts on press row momentarily stop jotting down notes and look at one another in amazement.
Sit next to a basketball scout during an NBA game and they'll tell you to watch the players without the ball to see how a play develops. It's a seemingly impossible task for a casual fan to do as they move their head side to side to the flick of every pass and follow the ball as if they were watching a tennis match. With Griffin, however, you can't help but become transfixed by his every moment, whether or not he has the ball.By now anyone who has watched the Clippers understands that if he is on the court, he is in play -- and you don't want to take your eyes off him at the risk of missing one of his highlight-reel dunks. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, however, wasn't impressed by any of Griffin's dunks after the game. It was Griffin's diving out of bounds to save a loose ball late in the game that impressed him the most. That play, more than any other, signified the type of player Griffin is and how he has slowly changed the culture of the Clippers. "Other people would say a dunk, but as a coach, I'm most impressed by the hustle plays," Del Negro said. "Those are the things you're looking for, and when you make a play like that it just gets everybody's energy up. All those plays add up and that's a good sign for us."
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.