GRIFFIN’S STRETCH OF DOMINANCE CONTINUES
LOS ANGELES – Blake Griffin didn’t shy away from the question as much as he made it about the Clippers instead of himself.
Asked if his recent stretch of MVP-caliber performances is the best he’s played since his NBA career began more than three years ago, Griffin said he thought it could be.
“The best part about it is that we’ve won games,” Griffin added. “We’ve won games and I think I’m learning to [take] what the game gives me and not [trying] to force anything.”
The game, over the last two weeks, has given Griffin a lot. Since Dec. 14, Griffin has averaged 26.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 80.6 percent from the foul line (58-of-72). The Clippers are 6-2.
The coup de grace of his eight-game run was Saturday night against the Jazz, when Griffin scored a season-high 40 points on 13-for-20 shooting and secured his sixth game in a row with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“It‘s not even numbers-wise,” said Chris Paul. “I looked at his stat sheet after the game and said, ‘Wow, he had 40.‘
“But I think his confidence right now is pretty high, and rightfully so. It‘s great to see how he‘s dominating the game, whether jump shots, or in the post, or on the free-throw line. It‘s fun to watch.”
The superstar duo’s relationship has grown in their two-plus years together. There is an element of mutual trust, a knowing. Paul said Griffin is demanding the ball more than ever.
In the fourth quarter Saturday, Griffin scored 18 points. The Clippers force-fed him, in part, because the matchups dictated it, but also because he was virtually unstoppable.
“We trust him,” Clippers head coach Doc River said. “We’d be dumb if we didn’t throw it to him, if you think about it He’s a hell of a player.”
Griffin is not necessarily a different player than years past. He still provides the Clippers with the most unique combination of size and speed west of Dade County. He threw down an alley-oop from Jamal Crawford on Saturday where he sprinted the floor, filled the lane and caught the ball with his back to the rim and dunked it backwards.
There is still no shortage of athleticism in year four. For Griffin, now, it’s about confidence and how he is utilized.
“I think the best thing we’ve done, and it’s more him, is we’ve got him to face the defender more,” Rivers said. “Why turn your back on a guy who outweighs you by 30 pounds? Why allow him to touch you? When you face him, now it’s your advantage because you have speed. He’s going to get to the spin with his back to the basket anyway. He’s really bought into and he’s attacking guys and it’s been great.”
In concert with Griffin’s aggressiveness has been his confidence in not just earning trips to the foul line but making them when he gets there. Once a liability for the 66 percent career free-throw shooter, it has morphed into a newfound weapon. Through 32 games, he’s second in the NBA in fouls drawn against opponents (217) behind Dwight Howard (220). He’s had 10 double-digit free throw games, including six the last three weeks. He’s shooting 77 percent since Dec. 1.
“You just can‘t [foul him],” Paul said. “[He] has the ultimate confidence right now, as he should, and we want to keep that. I don‘t know how to guard him, because you back up, he‘s knocking it down. You jam him up, he‘s too quick for most big men, and now, if you foul him, he‘s getting to the line.”
Griffin added: “Just the confidence to hit free throws from my teammates telling me, then also the work I put in with our shooting coach Bob Thate. He‘s done an unbelievable job and just stayed on me. For me, it‘s all confidence right now.‖
“I was thinking about it earlier, and on a couple breakaways I haven‘t been getting fouled as hard, which is nice. But really, to me, it‘s allowing me to attack even more and almost welcome those fouls. So I think that puts pressure on the defense, and hopefully that opens things up for the rest of our guys.”
It’s also paved the way for Griffin to put up high scoring games unlike ever before. In his latest eight-game stretch, which included his second Western Conference Player of the Week award this season, he’s topped 32 points or more three times, including becoming the second player this season to have at least 35 points in back-to-back games.
Griffin’s never done that in three straight. But at this point, when he’s even approximating that he’s playing his best basketball ever, it would almost be surprising if he didn’t do it.