Posted Jan 18 2011 9:52AM
LOS ANGELES -- The team meeting took place on the bus the afternoon of Dec. 16, after the Clippers returned to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Mich., from practice at nearby Oakland University. Coaches and staffers exited, players stayed on, decisions were made.
Among others, it was decreed right there, parked near the entrance of the building, that Blake Griffin would be protected. There would be other conclusions along the same lines of sticking together and not being dragged under by a 5-21 record. But the Griffin issue had already become pressing for some teammates. Opponents, looking for ways to get the rookie phenom out of his game, were getting increasingly rough.
And no one had to be reminded of Andre Miller blasting Griffin in the back 11 days earlier in retaliation of what Miller viewed as Griffin's excessive contact without a foul call.
Miller got a one-game suspension and the Clippers got fed up.
The tactics from other teams continued, they believed, and so when Lamar Odom took exception Sunday with Griffin's hard play under the basket late in the game and took a long tug on Griffin's jersey, Baron Davis jumped in and a brief scuffle ensued.
Griffin, Davis, Odom and Ron Artest were ejected, although the league on Monday rescinded the hits to Griffin and Artest. And coach Vinny Del Negro saw the incident as "overblown."
Hours later, in a holiday matinee at Staples Center, Griffin had 47 points -- a franchise rookie record and a league-high -- and 14 rebounds in a 114-107 victory over the Pacers. Some Clippers noted a rough approach from Indiana, and some from Indiana weren't thrilled in return. When Griffin offered James Posey a fist bump after the game, Posey walked away.
The resurgent Clippers don't care. They are playing with great energy and confidence, with 10 wins in 14 games since the Bus Summit. It's a streak with the additional credibility boost of victories against the Lakers, Heat and Bulls. Griffin is an unstoppable power forward.
This is them pushing back, literally and figuratively, in defense of their potential and their teammate.
"Just as far as having each other's back, but knowing, hey, it's a target on him especially and we've got to be ready for it," said veteran Craig Smith, out now with a herniated disc but normally a physical presence as a 265-pound forward.
"And if we have to get in a brawl, there's a brawl. It's a grown-man's league, and sometimes it happens. I don't like for it to happen like that, but it's a very emotional game. He might not like how somebody grabs him and might get up fast. It happens. It's part of the game. I wish it was like hockey, where we could put boards all around, if guys want to go at it. But I think they don't want to go at it with him like that, one-on-one.
"I think it started in the Portland game, with Andre Miller. I told [Griffin], 'You've got to protect yourself out there, first and foremost. But at the same time, as a group, we have your back.' They tried to get in his head. I told him, 'Don't let it frustrate you. Just take it to another level. Use that anger out there on the floor versus going at them at attacking 'em.' "
Griffin must be very, very angry. He averaged 23 points and 13.5 rebounds in December, taking control of Rookie of the Year. Moving to take on the entire league, he averaged 27.6 points and 14.4 rebounds the first seven games of January and become a legitimate candidate for the All-Star Game on Feb. 20 in his home arena.
What he's doing is the other form of retaliation.
"A lot of teams really try to play really physical with him," said Jordan, himself one of the major reasons behind the recovery to 15-25. "At the beginning, we were like, 'Are you all right?' But now, it's happening too much. So we have to be there to stand up for our teammate.
"We try to be physical with every team, try to meet them early, let them know that we're here. We're not going to go out there and try to hurt anybody.
"As far as them being physical with Blake, we're not going to try to start anything, but at the same time we're going to stick up for our teammate, you know what I mean? If somebody knocks him down, we're going to stick up for our teammate, whether it's Blake, whether it's Randy [Foye], Baron or Willie Warren. We're going to stand up for our teammates."
No one doubts that.
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