CONFIDENCE GROWING FOR GRIFFIN AT LINE

Photo: Blake Griffin

LOS ANGELES – Back when the free throws weren’t falling as consistently Clippers forward Blake Griffin may have shied away from getting to the foul line.

He may have subconsciously been less aggressive than he normally would have been. That lack of confidence has seemingly vanished.

On Monday, a night Griffin and his teammates were supposed to be worn out after a seven-game, 13-day road trip, Griffin wore out the Spurs. He attempted a season-high 15 free throws, making 11, on his way to 27 points. 

It mattered little who guarded him (Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Jeff Ayres, Kawhi Leonard), Griffin was intent on punishing the Spurs for single covering him. He used his quickness to beat defenders when he faced up. He used his strength when he got early post up position and muscled his way to the rim.

“It’s been fun to watch, and it’s my job to keep feeding him,” said Chris Paul, who had nine assists, a third of them to Griffin. “When Blake gets it going like that, I love that he demands the ball. He demands the ball and he’s a handful.”

His improved foul shooting has made Griffin, who is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists while shooting 50 percent or better from the field, arguably more of a handful than ever.

“I feel like being in the paint and really attacking you almost get fouled 90 percent of the time,” Griffin said. “So, not worrying about going to the free throw line and really making them pay makes people think twice about taking a foul here and there.”

There have been flashes at times throughout his career where it appeared Griffin found his stride at the line. But this appears to be a trend.  Griffin is shooting a career-high 66.7 percent from the line through 26, but he’s gone 51-of-69 (73.9 percent) in the last month. Since Dec. 1, he has attempted 13 or more free throws in three games, including Monday.

“It’s something that I’ve been working on,” Griffin said of the foul shooting.” It’s a confidence thing for me, going up there and feeling like you’re going to hit every single one and not being worried about getting fouled at any point in the game. I think that’s the difference for me this year, as opposed to the past.”

Confidence at the line, and in getting there, breeds a new set of problems for defenders. Single-teaming Griffin, who is a career 61.7 percent foul shooter, could become less of an option. And if they double, he is adept at finding cutters and open players on the perimeter.

“We were surprised that they didn’t double-team as much,” Jamal Crawford said. “They were playing behind him so we had to go to him. He’s very efficient down there and Blake’s a load down there. He’s very unselfish, so if does get double-teamed he makes the pass out.”

When Griffin is aggressive it opens up shots on the perimeter for others, but the relationship between the two is not exclusive. Shots on the perimeter can help open things up down low as well. On Monday the Clippers had the best of both, making 11 3-pointers, getting post ups from Griffin and getting their workhorse to the foul line.

“We gave him great space and he came through for us,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “I actually thought that was a turning point in the game, when they got the little lead we came out of the timeout and went straight to the post, went straight to the post again and then again. We got something good out of it; he’s such a great passer, too. I thought that was a difference in the game, that was the turning point for us, because then we can get back to all pick-and-roll stuff because we had a post-game.”

And that’s perhaps the most significant development in terms of Griffin’s success at the foul line. There is one less way to defend the Clippers as a unit.

“He’s a guy that, right now, you have to double him in order to stop him,” Paul said. “We’re going to keep playing through him every night like that until he tells us otherwise.”