Free of whistles, Griffin scores at will
LOS ANGELES -- The NBA playoffs are so much better when we're talking about the star performances instead of the officiating. Unfortunately, with Blake Griffin it has been impossible to separate the two.
He has scored 51 points in 49 minutes played this series, the type of point-per-minute production that validates his status among the league's elite. It's the splits that are so maddening -- to both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.
He scored 16 points in Game 1, when he played only 19 minutes (to the Clippers' consternation) before fouling out of a game won by Golden State.
But he roared back with 35 points in Game 2, when he had the foul-trouble-free luxury of playing 30 minutes in the Clippers' 138-98 romp.
"It just allowed me to play a little more aggressive," Griffin said in typical low-key manner.
Chris Paul, sitting next to him, looked at the box score placed between them on the table and scanned his eyes to the personal fouls column on Griffin's line.
"You didn't have any!" Paul said.
"That's how it works sometimes," Griffin deadpanned.
Not often, especially when a player is attacking the rim and grabbing six rebounds and doing his part in a trapping defense that smothered Warriors guard Stephen Curry in the first half.
To the Warriors, it must have felt as though the NBA included an attachment in the email the league sent out acknowledging a missed foul by Draymond Green against Chris Paul near the end of Game 1: a downloadable program that blocked the officials from calling any fouls on Griffin in Game 2.
The only thing limiting Griffin on Monday night was the Clippers' own success. The group of Danny Granger, Hedo Turkoglu, Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and Glen Davis played so well that they earned an extended run by Clippers coach Doc Rivers in the second quarter. And the Clippers so thoroughly dominated the Warriors that a 30-point lead when Griffin checked out with 2:01 in the third quarter meant he was done for the night.
For Griffin, the big night really began the day before, when he finished talking to reporters then walked over to the farthest basket in the Clippers' practice facility, grabbed a basketball off the rack and slowly rolled it across the court, trying to get the ball to stop right at the free throw line. Then he started putting up shots under the watch of shooting coach Bob Thate, part of a daily routine that has helped Griffin improve his free throw shooting to the capacity of a 9-for-10 performance from the line Monday.
The thing about Griffin: even though he's seemingly on your screen during every commercial break of nationally televised games, he spends much more time away from the cameras, in the gym.
"He's working on his game every day," Rivers said. "He's learning the things he needs to do to sharpen his tools, and I think he does that. You guys don't get a chance to see the gym when it's empty on a day off, but Blake's in there and he's putting in the right work and he's working on the right things, too. I think that's all going into him having a great year."
It's why the Clippers don't begrudge anything that comes his way, even if they might be the only locker room in the league that feels that way.
This is a team in which the role players actually wish Griffin and Paul would take more shots. The Clippers feel they're better when that happens.
"It means a lot," Griffin said. "Whether you believe it or not, you know every NBA player deals with confidence issues at times and before every game. To hear CP, Jamal [Crawford], DJ [DeAndre Jordan], Matt [Barnes] DC [Darren Collison], all down the line and then our whole coaching staff say, 'Go attack, go score, go do what you do,' that's a confidence-builder that gets me into the game. Even when I'm missing shots, and they still say that. Sometimes I just want to say, 'Man, you guys do it for a little bit.' But that's huge, man. That's encouraging, and it's big for our team."
The Clippers tried having the other guys do it in Game 1. And they had a series-shifting loss to show for it. It means they're still up against it, forced to win at least one game in a hostile Oracle Arena if they are to prevail in this series.
But first they needed this Game 2. That wasn't an absolute, just common sense. Similar to the way Griffin needed a big night. He hadn't scored 30 points in his previous 14 playoff games, a streak that began in Game 5 of the 2012 first round. All of the narratives about the elevation of Griffin come to a halt if he comes up small in the playoffs. For now, let them continue.
"You saw tonight how dominant he is," said Paul, who had 12 points and 10 assists.
If the signature GIF of Game 1 was a frustrated Griffin dumping a cup of water on a Warriors fan along the sideline after fouling out, Game 2 could be summarized by Stephen Curry angrily chucking his mouthpiece to the scorer's table -- right around the same spot where Griffin's aqua escapades took place -- after failing to draw a foul call on back-to-back layups.
The Warriors were whistled for more than their share of fouls: 33. The Clippers were called for only 22. None on Griffin. At the rate he's going, you don't need advanced analytics to calculate the value of having him on the court.