Posted May 16 2012 9:03PM
SAN ANTONIO -- There will likely come a time when Blake Griffin is ready for all of this.
That time likely won't come before the end of this playoff series against the Spurs.
In 1 ½ quarters of Game 1, Griffin threw down three slam dunks that did everything but rattle the Lone Star clean off the Texas state flag. But in the last two quarters, he scored one lone field goal apiece in a 16-point loss.
In between, the Spurs often left so much space between Griffin and his primary defender that one might have suspected that he was radioactive. You could watch the San Antonio defense and see his man immediately start to cheat toward the fire-starter point guard Chris Paul, effectively playing a zone defense, and leaving Griffin looking like a man adrift in the middle of the ocean.
Trouble is, Griffin doesn't have a mid-range jumper, a soft floater or a dependable little hook shot to use as a life preserver in what is, make no mistake about it, the deep, deep water of playing against the Spurs.
It was one thing for Griffin's Clippers to advance out of the first round of the playoffs by winning a Game 7 on the road in Memphis. But the Grizzlies, despite last year's flirtation with success, are still a team searching to find a postseason identity with a map and a flashlight, while the Spurs are quite comfortable with exactly who they are because they've been doing it for so long.
"Nobody is giving me time to develop," Griffin said after his 15-point, nine-rebound performance in the opener. "I have years to improve, but for some reason everyone talks about what I can't do."
That, of course, is what happens when you set yourself up smack in the middle of the spotlight by leaping over the hood of a car to win the All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie and then becoming a ubiquitous national pitchman on TV.
Wonder how hot the griddle of expectation can get, Blake? Just ask LeBron James, who has only been trying to live up to that "Chosen One" cover of Sports Illustrated for a decade.
Not that Griffin has a playoff trail of disappointment like James that stretches from Akron to South Beach. He is, after all, 1-0 in playoff series wins over a postseason career that now consists of just eight games.
The 23-year-old is also playing on a sprained left knee that he suffered in Game 5 of the Memphis series that hampers mobility and has him at less than full capacity. He also rolled his left ankle in Game 1 against the Spurs.
But even without the aches, Griffin would have pains thriving with a one-dimensional game that has all the nuance and refinement of a kazoo when compared to the Spurs' well-rehearsed symphony.
Griffin needs to develop a low-post game that consists of more than just shaking the backboard loose from its moorings and making the nightly TV highlight reels with his thunderclap blocked shots against Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins.
He needs to slip through defenses and not just over and or through them at the end of a fast break. He needs to become dependable with that short jumper from the wing. He needs to play solid, straight-up defense every time down the floor and not just go for the occasional kill. He needs to make free throws.
So much of the burden comes from playing in the Hollywood market, especially at a time when the Lakers are like a dowager actress in decline and L.A. fans who bought into the instant "Lob City" hype that arrived on the jet that delivered All-Star point guard -- and Griffin's set-up man -- Chris Paul to the Clippers. The championship contender's vacuum being created by the Lakers is trying to suck in a franchise that has won only two playoff series in the past 35 years and a rising young star that is hardly a complete or finished product. It is neither accurate nor fair.
The Clippers will have no choice but to sign Griffin to a maximum contract when he becomes a free agent this summer and hope that his game blossoms along with his celebrity. But they will still have to fill in a roster that has more holes than an old screen door with the likes of key players DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Evans offensively challenged. They will have to hope that Griffin can work to expand a tool belt of skills that for now consists of only a hammer. And hope that all of it is enough to make Paul willing to sign on for the long term when he becomes a free agent in 2013.
Sure, his left knee was balky, but it was still telling that the Clippers nailed down their historic Game 7 win in Memphis with Kenyon Martin on the floor in Griffin's place. Bad Blake played just 13 minutes in the second half against the opener against the Spurs -- 3 ½ minutes of a fourth quarter when the Clippers had the lead down to eight -- and admitted that he had to find a way to keep his energy up after his explosive starts.
"We gotta find a way," said Paul. "If that means finding him early, getting him involved more, we've got to find a way to get him involved."
There will likely come a time when Griffin can drive the car and not just jump over it. Until then, more bumps in the ride.
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