Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Taming Blake Griffin doesn't help Celtics
By Jackie MacMullan
BOSTON -- I feel like someone stole my wallet.
I'm pretty sure the Boston Celtics' schedule tucked inside the wallet specifically stated the Los Angeles Clippers were on the docket on Wednesday night. My plan was to fire up my laptop, sit back and prepare to be dunkified.
Imagine my surprise (and dismay) when the Blakers tucked it to the Green -- and the league's most entertaining asset, Blake Griffin, had practically nothing to do with it.
Hey, I don't mind admitting it. I wanted to see the kid slam it through -- early and often. Griffin's highlight reel never gets old. He's young, powerful, passionate, even congenial, for crying out loud. He has dunked his way through his first NBA season with mixed results for his team but with rave reviews for his own, rim-rattling portfolio.
There is more to his game than that, obviously, but denying the ball in the post and grabbing one-handed rebounds are not particularly unique skills. I wanted the glitz, the glamour, the gladiator.
Instead, I got fleeced. It was like gearing up to witness vintage Jordan and being subjected to a steady diet of Bill Cartwright dunks.
It was like circling LeBron James and the (former) contending Cleveland Cavaliers on the calendar and having Mo Williams show up and steal all the points from the 3-point line.
Come to think of it, that actually happened. Mo plays for the Clippers now and he had already dropped 18 on the Celtics by halftime. (It made you kind of wonder if Rajon Rondo was having one of those "this point guard is beneath me'' moments that used to intermittently crop up last season. Among Rondo's transgressions: an ill-advised fourth-quarter 3-point attempt over Griffin's outstretched arms with his team within six, and a foolish foul on Williams that gave him three free throws after the Celts had cut the deficit to three.)
There was a Jordan in the house, too, but it was DeAndre Jordan -- a long, lean, agile kid from Texas A&M who was averaging 6.7 points a game before he bounded into the Garden and obliterated Boston's interior defense with no less than seven dunks. If Blake Griffin was making the same plays, he would have brought down the house. DeAndre Jordan? He generated a collection of disgusted looks from the disbelieving partisan crowd.
You know, the ones that say, "Who the hell is this kid?''
Pay attention. Jordan can play. He's a defensive guy who oozes energy and effort and checked out with 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting, mostly because his pal Griffin drew lots of company whenever he was roaming the parquet.
Boston did a superb job of containing Griffin, the runaway rookie of the year and the Next Big Thing in the Association. The Celtics' strategy was apparent: Double the stud and dare the others to beat them.
|Blake Griffin didn't dunk as much as most everyone expected him to against the Celtics, but it didn't matter for the Clippers.|
"We did a fine job on their star,'' explained Paul Pierce, "but we forgot about the other guys.''
How true. When they doubled Griffin off the pick and roll, that left Williams with open looks and Jordan with open dunks. It also gave the Clippers a gigantic road win.
There are plenty of excuses readily available for the Celtics. They are undermanned and overworked. Yet, falling behind by as many as 23 points at home against a 24-40 team? The Clippers shot 52 percent for the game. They had already put 60 points on the board by the intermission. They were shooting 67.6 percent at the time.
C'mon now, fellas. You can do better than that.
It has been an underwhelming season for Western Conference star power in the Garden. The Denver Nuggets came to town for their one and only appearance with Carmelo Anthony in street clothes. Ditto for Oklahoma City, which toiled without an ailing Kevin Durant -- and won. Tyreke Evans failed to suit up for Sacramento and Kevin Martin didn't play when Houston blew through.
Blake Griffin was in his cherry red Clippers uniform a full two hours before game time testing out the legendary dead spots on the parquet and soaking in the aura of one of basketball's most historic settings.
The first time Griffin got the ball in the post against Nenad Krstic, the crowd sat upright with anticipation. Within seconds Ray Allen came with the double-team. Griffin spun away, waited Ray out and then converted a semi-awkward fadeaway.
A few minutes later, he used his explosive first step to blow past Jeff Green, went up to dunk and ... was stripped of the ball.
"I know I didn't play well at all, but I'm more than happy with this win,'' Griffin declared.
He will see many more double-teams before he's done, and will learn on the fly how to be one pass ahead of the trap and when (and when not) to kick it out to the perimeter. Griffin finished with 12 points and seven boards on 4-of-14 shooting and saluted the Celtics with, "They really are one of the tougher defensive teams.''
Green was one of the many who was assigned to contain Griffin (Krstic, Kevin Garnett and Troy Murphy in a brief cameo were the others). He conceded the game plan was to limit Griffin from making spectacular plays.
"When you see the kind of damage Blake Griffin has done, it's natural you are going to put the focus on him,'' Green said. "We wanted to prevent him from getting the easy lay-ups. I thought we did a great job of containing him, but there's a price for the double-team.''
Griffin ultimately did enjoy one lone exclamation dunk, with 1:35 left in the game on a textbook pick-and-roll with Randy Foye. By then, the Celtics were trailing 102-93 and Mo Williams had torched them for 28 points.
It was about that time I started looking for my wallet. For one of the few times this season, I wanted my money back.
Jackie MacMullan, who has spent nearly 20 years as a beat writer and columnist in Boston, is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.
We did a fine job on their star, but we forgot about the other guys.
-- Celtics' Paul Pierce, on loss to the Clippers