GRIFFIN UNSTOPPABLE IN CAREER-BEST HALF

LOS ANGELES – A little more than three years ago, Blake Griffin gave a rookie-year preview of Monday night.

It was a mid-January afternoon. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Indiana Pacers were in town. He did it all, made shots from the perimeter, got to the foul line, displayed that fade-away bank shot that’s become a routine part of today’s arsenal, and he did it with nary a dunk.

Flash ahead to Monday night’s 112-105 victory over the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers’ eighth win in a row. Griffin, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Month, had that kind of flawless performance again.

This time, of course, he got two dunks, including a breakaway in the first quarter where he paid homage to Karl Malone, placing his left hand behind his head and throwing the ball down with his right.

But Monday’s 37 points on 14-for-16 shooting and six rebounds in 31:42 was not the Indiana game. It was not about dunks. It was about what Griffin is capable of doing every night, not once on an “in the zone” afternoon in January when he scores 47 points and the season has already been lost.   

“Blake has been doing it all year long, dominating all year long, he’s being consistent,” Darren Collison said of the reigning Western Conference Player of the Month. “I think we’re used to it which is a good thing. Anytime that you have a player that you’re used to being that dominant, it’s a good luxury to have. He’s just reading the defense, if they’re pressing on him, he’s using his strength. If they’re playing off him, he’s taking that shot. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

The confidence was readily apparent. Griffin scored 22 points in the first quarter, a personal best for any period, one point fewer than the Suns had as a team, and the second most in Clippers franchise history. His only miss came on a runner that Miles Plumlee blocked. Anything else that got near the rim, fell through it.

“It was just one of those zones where you feel like everything you put up is going in,” Griffin said.

He had eight points in the first five minutes, including the “Mailman” dunk and said he realized he might be in store for a big night after a wild shot attempt went down early on.

“In the first quarter, I kind of did like a swing-through and got it and just shot it, thinking I was maybe I was going to get the foul and it went in,” Griffin said. “So, I kind of said, ‘Alright, let’s keep this going.’”

He went on to finish the first half with 29, also a career high. Phoenix tried just about everything they could to slow him. Plumlee, P.J. Tucker, who was later ejected for punching Griffin in the throat, Channing Frye, Alex Len, and both Morris twins (Marcus and Markieff) had their shot. None of them could halt Griffin from making his.

”I liked the matchups,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “I didn’t have a 22-point plan before the game, but when he gets it going we have a ‘feed the pig’ principle on a play or a player. Tonight, Blake had it going and we kept feeding him.”

“That’s efficient and I’ve got to give him the ball more,” said Chris Paul, who had 11 assists, including five to Griffin. “That’s what I’m thinking.”

Less than three minutes into the third quarter, Griffin had amassed 35 points. It appeared an historical scoring night may have been in the making. But Phoenix adjusted, doubling Griffin before he caught the ball at times, and he also slowed by foul trouble, picking up his third in the final minutes of the second quarter, fourth in the final minutes of the third and two in back-to-back possessions of the fourth that sent him to the bench permanently with 3:23 to go.

Paul said Griffin had been so good that he “blanked” on what he needed to do with Griffin off the court.

“He is one of those players that you can’t stop,” said Danny Granger, who was tasked with guarding Griffin at times when as a rookie Griffin scored his career high three years ago against the Pacers. “He had a jump shot going on tonight, and a lot of times he just bullies people. Push them under the rim and lay the ball up or dunk it. That makes some people mad, when you have a force like him. I’ve played against him plenty of times, and sometimes you just throw your hands up and there’s not much you can do.”

Griffin was asked to compare the way he felt three years ago to Monday. What felt similar?

“When shots are falling, honestly, keep shooting,” Griffin said. “At the same time, we were all hitting shots, guys were scoring, our offense was going. It was a little bit different situation than three years ago, obviously. I think we’ve come a long ways.”