Scoring Inside And Out, Griffin Wraps Up One Of His Best Months Ever
LOS ANGELES – J.J. Redick’s not only a sharpshooter, but also a straight shooter, rarely dealing in hypotheticals or clichés.
Still, as he thought about this recent stretch from Blake Griffin since his return from right knee surgery, Redick couldn’t help himself.
“He’s played like he’s on a mission,” Redick said. “I don’t know what that mission is, but he’s been dominant. This is as good as I’ve seen him play.”
That’s saying something, considering this is the fourth season Redick’s had a front-row view as a teammate of Griffin’s, and the numbers back up Redick’s comments.
Griffin returned Jan. 24 from an 18-game hiatus needing not only to regain his rhythm, but also needing to be the primary playmaker with Chris Paul in the early stages of his five-week recovery from thumb surgery.
And he wasted no time.
In his third game back on Feb. 1 against the Suns, Griffin scored 29 points, a number he’d only reached once up until that point this season. By the end of the month, he’d reach the 29-point mark four more times.
Griffin followed up his Phoenix performance by becoming the first Clippers player this season to cross the 30-point threshold, dropping in 31 points against the Warriors. He’d go on later in February to set a new season-high with 32 points against the Knicks, then shattered that season high with a 43-point performance in his most recent game, sending the Clippers past the Hornets in overtime to end the month.
“(Blake) is a monster,” Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford said afterward. “He’s so skilled and smart. He’s the perfect player.”
Griffin averaged 26.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game this past month. It’s the first time in his career to average those numbers for an entire month, and he’s the only player in the NBA to reach those averages in February while shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
While the scoring is notable, perhaps more impressive than the points themselves is how efficiently he scored them at a 51 percent clip and where those points came from.
Mostly, he credits aggressiveness and patience.
The main part of his game Griffin said he loses most when he misses time is his rhythm, and that showed up in his return against the 76ers in late January, when he committed six turnovers. But that wasn’t a theme.
In February, he committed fewer than five turnovers every game.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve found - my patience, not trying to force things here and there,” Griffin said.
While the majority of his looks still come from inside five feet – where he shot 59.6 percent in February – he also went 18-for-33 from 20 to 29 feet out and 10-for-21 on 3-point attempts, including a crucial corner 3 in the fourth quarter as part of his 43-point night against Charlotte, securing a low pass and still burying the shot.
“I feel like my shot right before I went out was the best it had felt,” Griffin said. “I didn’t feel great about it early on, and thankfully I was able to get on the court pretty early throughout that injury and maintain that feeling.”
Griffin’s already made a career-best 15 3-pointers this season, and there’s no reason to believe that number will stop rising the rest of the year, considering the accuracy the power forward continues to show and develop from long distance. Head coach Doc Rivers still wants to see more of that from Griffin.
Despite going 3-for-4 behind the arc against the Hornets, knocking down three 3-pointers in a game for the first time in his career, Rivers thought there were two or three more opportunities he held back on.
“I think he still needs work at it – not work at the shot, just work taking it,” Rivers said. “I still think he passes up a couple that he should take, but it’s going to become second-nature. It’s just going to take time.”
It’s still a balance figuring out when to pull the trigger from deep largely because, despite his obvious uptick in scoring, Griffin’s still looking to create first, even with the burden lessened with Paul now back from injury.
“Me and Blake talk before every game as we walk out on the court about being aggressive,” said Paul, who thought Griffin could’ve easily gone for 50 points against Charlotte. “He’s a guy who’s capable of that every night, but he’s so unselfish.”
That’s represented in the six-plus assists per game Griffin gathered in February, almost unheard of for a 6-10, 250-pound power forward. He dished out at least eight assists four different times during the month, beginning with an 11-assist night as part of his 26-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist performance in Toronto, giving him the fifth triple-double of his career and his first of the year.
For the season, Griffin’s one of just three NBA players averaging at least 20 points, 8.5 rebounds and five assists per game.
While Rivers didn’t say this is the best he’s ever seen Griffin, he couldn’t ignore just how good his power forward has been since returning from injury.
“I just think he’s playing great,” Rivers said. “I think he’s comfortable, I think he’s in a good rhythm, and he’s doing more than scoring. He’s doing everything, and I think that’s probably why he’s playing so well.”