GRIFFIN GAINING CONFIDENCE IN JUMPER

Blake Griffin
Griffin scored six of his eight first-half points in the paint before expanding his range in the second half.

LOS ANGELES – Blake Griffin sat at the dais after the Clippers finished off a 101-80 victory over the Chicago Bulls with a bag of peanut M&Ms next to his right arm.

“These are gift from Bob Thate, my shooting coach,” Griffin said when asked about the candy. “Mechanics, not makes: It’s just a little reminder.”

Thate’s emphasis on Griffin’s mechanics has been steadfast. He wants his 23-year-old All-Star pupil concentrating on his release point, his shooting arc and his overall form.

Against Chicago it appeared to all start coming together. Griffin scored a game-high 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 4-for-5 from the foul line. And during one fourth-quarter stretch, with overmatched forward Vladimir Radmanovic allowing him several feet of space, Griffin knocked down three consecutive shots from outside of 18 feet. On the final basket he craned his right hand and held the pose briefly as the ball dropped through the net. For the game, Griffin made five baskets outside of the paint.

“It’s just about getting the ball in the right spot and doing what we’ve worked on,” Griffin said. “My teammates give me the confidence to keep shooting. They see me in there working every day, so it’s encouraging.”

A good portion of that encouragement has come from point guard and fellow All-Star Chris Paul, who has also dished out his fair share of tough love. On Saturday Paul prodded Griffin for turning down an open look in the beginning of the third quarter.

“In the second half, I drove and I kicked it to Blake and he didn’t shoot it,” Paul said. “I passed it to him and he didn’t shoot it and I looked at him and said, ‘Shoot it.’ I gave it back and he went and scored still, but he can do it. And we need him to do it.”

The evolution of Griffin’s perimeter game is something that could not only augment Paul’s offensive game, but Griffin’s as well.

“I probably get on him the most about not shooting it because he works on it so much in practice day-in and day-out that we have the confidence in him,” Paul said. “That helps me out unbelievably. My job as a point guard is to make the other team think that I’m trying to score. I can get two people on me and to throw it back to him once that continues going like that, it makes us that [much] more dangerous, and then that’s going to open him up at the rim, too.”

Eric Bledsoe agreed, saying making shots “helps [Griffin’s] confidence moving forward. When he’s hitting those shots, it’s going to open up lanes for him to dunk and what not.”

Griffin’s first half, which seemed like a carryover from his 20-point, 8-for-16 effort in Wednesday’s win over the Heat, included perhaps his best alley-oop of the season, a lob that came from Paul after Griffin stole the ball and kicked it ahead. Griffin also found room inside for step-through layups, runners and spinning hook shots against Bulls center Joakim Noah, but was unable to convert from the perimeter.  

In the second half, when Chicago appeared more conscious of cutting off Griffin’s driving lanes, he expanded his game. All it took was a bit of stern encouragement.

“I had to hit a couple [jumpers] so he’d (Paul) get off my back,” Griffin joked.                   

As usual, Griffin’s scoring makes up merely a portion of his overall contribution. He grabbed 10 rebounds, accumulating his fourth double-double of the season and had two steals and twice skidded across the floor to track down a loose ball. In the second quarter, when the Clippers made their first of two lengthy runs, he chased down an offensive rebound, hit the floor, retained his dribble and kicked it to the corner for a Matt Barnes 3-pointer.

Those kind of hustle plays will always be a part of Griffin’s game, and something the Clippers clearly need. According to Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, though, they also need him to continue building towards being a confident and consistent shooter from the floor.  

“When the ball goes in you’re going to gain confidence,” Del Negro said. “His shot release point is better. He’s working hard on it. We need him to open up the court a little bit and when he has those shots pick his spots. And they dropped for him tonight.”

More importantly, Griffin’s form was good enough to earn a bag of sweets.