GRIFFIN COULD BE ANOTHER OPTION IN CLUTCH FOR CLIPPERS

Blake Griffin

The Clippers roster is filled with players who have a reputation of performing in the clutch.

There’s Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford, known for their fearlessness at the end of games, and, of course, Chauncey Billups, or Mr. Big Shot, who has been on the floor for 10 of their last 11 outings and particularly figures to be a factor come playoff time.

Superstar Blake Griffin is also emerging as perhaps another option in the final quarter of close games.

Clutch statistics are typically measured by a player’s performance in the last five minutes of games where neither team is ahead by more than five points. In those situations Griffin is 13-for-22 (59.1%) this season. It’s the best shooting percentage on the team (minimum of 10 attempts) with Crawford (52.9%) in second. Griffin also has five assists in those games, including a drive and kick for a Crawford 3-pointer Sunday that brought the Clippers to within a point of the Thunder with 4:25 remaining.

If you expand his numbers to include the entire fourth quarter of games within five points, Griffin is 21-for-33 (63.6%). Of the 106 players in the NBA with at least 20 made field goals in the fourth quarter of close games, only Miami’s Chris Bosh (69.0%) has a better shooting percentage than Griffin.

Griffin’s success has been more noticeable recently. When Paul was out with a bruised right kneecap, the three-time All-Star forward often became a primary fourth-quarter option. He converted a 3-point play in Minnesota on Jan. 30 to seal a win against the Timberwolves and had two other field goals in the final three minutes of close games between Jan. 14 and Feb. 3.

He is shooting more from the perimeter, going 5-for-7 in the fourth quarter of close games on shots from outside of 15 feet, creating for others, and is attacking the rim with a newfound confidence in the fourth quarter.

Part of that is likely due to his improvement at the foul line. He’s said recently that for the first time in his career he “embraces” the opportunity to shoot free throws.

Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro agreed, adding that Griffin’s hard work has paid dividends.

“I think he has confidence because he works every day on it with [Shooting Coach] Bob [Thate],” Del Negro said. “He’s diligent in his approach to it. He feels a lot more comfortable there and it’s a huge factor not only for him but for the team and he knows that. I’m proud of the way he’s attacked it and there’s no question you can see the difference.

“It makes it easier for everybody. He can be in more attack and feel comfortable going there and he’s shooting a much higher percentage. I think that’s only going to get better with his work ethic and his commitment to improving there. It’s not a surprise. It was just a matter of time.”

His overall shooting improvement could lead to even more crunch-time opportunities. And when that happens, as Del Negro mentioned, it will also be merely a matter of time.