BLAKE GRIFFIN EMERGING AS PASSER & SCORER
LOS ANGELES – Blake Griffin pivoted to size up Magic center Nikola Vucevic on the left baseline in the middle of the third quarter Saturday.
Only about 10 seconds had dwindled off the shot clock when Griffin received the ball and he patiently surveyed how the Magic defense would react. He jab stepped. Waited. Jab stepped again. A second defender never arrived to force the ball out of Griffin’s hands, so he rose up and effortlessly banked in a 16-foot jumper.
The play was indicative of Griffin’s near flawless dominance in his first 29 minutes against Orlando. Rookie Andrew Nicholson was no match. The much bigger Vucevic proved no better. When the Magic double-teamed him, Griffin made the right pass. When they did not they had no answer for him.
As a whole the game was also indicative of Griffin’s ability to control a game from the post.
He tied season highs in points (30) and assists (seven) before the conclusion of the third quarter. He was patient and decisive. As a passer he dished to Jamal Crawford over the top of the defense for a corner 3-pointer, to DeAndre Jordan for a dunk, and to Matt Barnes cutting for a layup. As a scorer he displayed the kind of variety in his moves that may prove “unguardable” as teammate and dunk muse Chris Paul has said in the past.
On Saturday Paul had 16 assists with Griffin on the scoring end of six, including a brilliantly timed alley-oop off a side pick-and-roll on the possession that followed Griffin’s bank shot. That was the loudest of his five consecutive baskets to close the third quarter, but he also knocked down a pair of jump hooks; one spinning to his left hand on the baseline, the other a turnaround over the opposite shoulder on the right baseline.
Griffin, who was 15-of-22 (68.2%) through three quarters, did not attempt another shot after returning to the game with 5:35 to go; a turnabout from three nights earlier when he scored five of the team’s final seven points in a 99-93 win over the Mavericks.
While he struggled at times against Dallas, committing a career-high-tying six turnovers, Griffin pulled down 13 rebounds to go with 15 points. He has averaged 22.5 points, 4.3 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals in the last four games (three wins). He’s put up seven assists twice, three steals twice and threw in the 30-point outing against Orlando for good measure.
Overall, Griffin’s statistical output has not necessarily been like that all season. Or at least at a typical level for Griffin, who recorded historic averages in points, rebounds, field goal percentage and assists in his first 148 games as a professional.
The decline is largely due to the team’s newfound depth. Griffin’s playing a career-low 32.1 minutes per game and averaging almost three fewer shots per game than his previous two seasons combined and he’s sat out more fourth quarters in 37 games than he did in his first 148 combined.
Griffin’s aggressiveness offensively over the last week, though, may have been something he foreshadowed after Monday’s practice.
“I think I need to do a better job of trying to establish a low post presence early in the games,” he said. “Unless somebody has just got it going like Caron [Butler] that one game against Utah at home. Games like that when guys are really doing their thing. It’s one of those things where I kind of have to find my area. But if we’re struggling offensively, I think I need to a better job of establishing myself and that’s not on anybody but myself. It’s not a matter of getting the ball; I get the ball in the post enough. I just need to make it more worthwhile than I am doing.”
He certainly made his touches worthwhile against Orlando, both early and late, passing and scoring.