Blake Griffin’s hops haven’t gone anywhere. He was just waiting for the right moment to spring them out again.
During pregame warmups ahead of Monday night’s matchup against the Charlotte Hornets, the former Slam Dunk champion told teammate Derrick White to toss him a lob in-game. And, as he told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin later that night, “I had to stick to my word.”
Midway through the second quarter, White caught a pass from Jayson Tatum at the free-throw line and as he turned toward the basket, he saw Griffin begin to shuffle inward from the right corner. White took one dribble, floated up a perfect lob and vintage Griffin exploded off two feet, caught the ball with his right hand, and threw it down with authority to give the Celtics a 59-37 lead.
Boston’s bench cleared and the crowd went into a frenzy, celebrating Griffin’s first dunk in a Celtics uniform, the most exhilarating moment in a dominant, 140-105 win for the home squad.
Griffin has dunked nearly 1,100 times in his 12-year career but he hadn’t flushed one through the iron since March 21 of last season when he was with the Brooklyn Nets. He had to show his new teammates that he can still soar like he used to – at least so he could put a stop to their playful teasing.
“I’ve had to endure a lot of jokes from these guys,” the 33-year-old said with a smile, “and I’ve dished out some myself, so it’s probably warranted. But it’s just nice to get out here and mix it up a bit.”
Starting in place of Al Horford, who sat out the second night of the back-to-back with low back stiffness, Griffin got the offense going as he won the opening tip and then knocked down a 3-pointer on the very first possession of the game. He scored a season-high nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and also grabbed two rebounds on each end of the floor.
Griffin admits that it’s taken a few weeks to get his legs underneath him in this new setting, but he’s been chipping away and improving each day since he’s gotten to Boston.
Such professionalism hasn’t gone unnoticed by interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, who showed gratitude toward Griffin after the game.
“He's a great person,” said Mazzulla. “He's been great for our team on and off the court, plays hard, super aggressive, and is great teammate. And so, I thanked him for his professionalism and his work ethic to stay ready. It's a long year and we're going to need more of that this season for sure.”
Griffin’s work ethic goes beyond his contributions on the court. Even though his role isn’t as prominent as it used to be, the six-time All-Star still provides infectious energy as an uplifting spirit in the locker room.
“Blake's always in a good mood no matter what,” said Marcus Smart, who dished out a career-high 15 assists Monday night. “You walk in that locker room and you're down, he's definitely going to pick you up. Having a guy like that who understands, who's been in this league, who's done some spectacular things himself individually and then to come in and to take a lesser role but still be happy and joyous about it, teaching us younger guys how to play, and then to come to see what he did tonight, that's all you can ask for from a guy like Blake. He gives it every night. We love Blake and we're glad he's here.”
The vintage Blake dunks are just a bonus.