Posted Oct 28 2010 8:20AM - Updated Oct 28 2010 10:26AM
LOS ANGELES -- It was after Blake Griffin assaulted the rim with a one-arm catch-and-spike dunk off a lob from Randy Foye. Or maybe just before Ryan Gomes missed a jumper from the right side and Griffin went vertical, his forearm at the rim, and controlled the offensive rebound with his other hand, slamming the ball through the net.
No. It was during the sequence that 250-pound power forwards playing a real game for the first time in about 18 months just don't execute, the one where Griffin showed the body control of a veteran, playing within himself, to finish a tip-in around Andre Miller.
Whatever. The exact time does not matter. The important part is that Griffin instantly made an impact for the Clippers with a highlight reel of a first quarter, while Greg Oden sat in a salmon-color, open-collar shirt and beige jacket on the Trail Blazers' bench at the other end of the court. That'll work for perspective.
Griffin didn't just make his NBA debut Wednesday night, exactly one year later than scheduled. He muscled and flew and stretched and finessed his way to 20 points and 14 rebounds in L.A.'s 98-88 loss at Staples Center.
Without saying it or needing to, Griffin set out to show he is not Oden. Both are former No. 1 picks, both big men, both trying to beat major knee injuries, both unique talents (Oden for defensive potential, Griffin for freak athleticism in a power frame), both on teams with histories of medical calamities. The only difference is that Portland's curse is mainly tied to centers while the Clippers are not nearly as discriminating.
The highlight reel of a Wednesday night allowed Griffin to separate himself, and not just from Oden. If this keeps up, he can be a transformative player for the franchise, the kind of electric presence the Clippers don't have. Chris Kaman can make the All-Star team again and again, but he doesn't command eyes from the stands every possession. Eric Gordon can have an important role with Team USA again and win gold in the Olympics or repeat his summer with another first-place medal in the world championships. But he won't have the same captivating potential. Baron Davis used to have it, but no more.
"It brings an energy and an atmosphere that we need, that gets our defense going," Davis said. "He's going to make amazing plays and he plays so hard. I think everybody kind of feeds off that."
Griffin created a buzz in Staples Center in the first quarter. Making up for lost time, he needed about 3 1/2 minutes for the first lightning strike, reaching back with his right arm in midair to control the lob from Foye and throwing down a dunk in one motion. Some 90 seconds later, he completed the left-handed putback of Gomes' miss. Less than a minute after that came the dextrous move in traffic.
Just as noteworthy, he played under control in a way that belied his lack of experience. If his impact was greatly reduced in structured half-court play, he was also the guy who made eight of 14 shots and committed two turnovers in 39 minutes while remaining aggressive enough to collect nine offensive rebounds.
"It was a sigh of relief that I made it back, I guess, through all that," Griffin said. "I didn't want to make this game any bigger than it was. It was just my first game. This isn't a live-or-die situation. We got 81 more after this. We've got to improve."
He surely will, and that's a good starting point for the rest of the Clippers. They have a candidate for Rookie of the Year, the kind of player that energizes fans and organizations. Potential merged with reality Wednesday night here. The first game looked in many ways like a midseason showing. If the exact time matters.
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