Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Nov. 22): Blake Griffin shows off his court vision in win vs. Raptors

Griffin puts on passing show vs. Raptors | Warriors talking up Green’s DPOY case | Sixers not rushing Noel back | Smart’s speech inspires Celtics’ comeback

No. 1: Griffin’s passing keeps Clippers humming along — To say that Blake Griffin has become a hub in the LA Clippers’ offense this season is to make a bit of an understatement. He already has 881 total passes (which ranks seventh in the NBA) after amassing 2,097 total passes last season and 4,370 in 2013-14 (his last fully healthy season). He is the only frontcourt player that high on the list this season and his passing was on full display last night as LA dropped the Toronto Raptors. Dan Woike of the Orange Count Register has more:

There are the dunks. There are the commercials. There are the jokes. But when Blake Griffin is at his most fun to watch, it’s the passes.

In the first half, while he was uncharacteristically out of flow, Griffin found his teammates for big shots. In the second half, when he was picking apart smaller Raptor defenders and getting easy buckets, he was still looking to do the same.

Griffin’s playmaking was one of the deciding factors in the Clippers’ 123-115 victory over Toronto at Staples Center, snapping a four-game losing streak against the Raptors.

“He’s doing everything for us,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

With Kyle Lowry right in his chest, Griffin forced a double team and found Chris Paul for a wide open 3-pointer in front of the Toronto bench for the biggest of his seven assists. As devastating as he was when he looked for his teammates, Griffin was just as good finding points for himself.

Griffin scored 26 points, his eighth game in a row with at least 20. He also grabbed seven rebounds.


No. 2: Warriors: Green’s DPOY run begins now — Golden State Warriors do-it-all forward Draymond Green is well known for his versatility on offense (he had an NBA-best 18 triple-doubles last season). What is often overlooked about him is just how capable and savvy of a defender he is. Although Green finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season, his teammates are starting the campaign for the award in 2016-17 early. Chris Haynes of has more:

They’re only 14 games into the regular season, but that isn’t preventing the Golden State Warriors from campaigning for an individual honor on behalf of Draymond Green.

“I hope he wins [Defensive Player of the Year],” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Monday’s 120-83 win over the Indiana Pacers. “We’re well aware of how great (San Antonio Spurs forward) Kawhi Leonard is. And it’s one of those votes that the last couple years could have gone either way, but I would love to see Draymond rewarded for his efforts.”

Kevin Durant weighed in as well.

“Why not? That’s my teammate. He’s covering a lot of ground for us guarding one through five,” he said. “Rebounding, blocking shots, he’s doing it all. That stuff is a popularity contest, so my campaign starts now: Draymond Green for Defensive Player of the Year. So hopefully you guys realize what he does on the court, the small things that go into being a great defender.”

Green told ESPN last week that he desperately wanted to win the award this season after finishing runner-up to Leonard the past two seasons.

“That’s something that I want to win, and if there’s anything I’ve ever been selfish about, it’s that award,” Green said. “Like, I want that award.”


No. 3: Sixers taking cautious approach with Noel’s return — Talented young big man Nerlens Noel has yet to suit up for a game this season with the Philadelphia 76ers as he recovers from the knee surgery he had just before the season. While he has returned to Philly to continue his rehabilitation work, he’s not quite ready to play yet. When will he suit up? That depends on who you ask. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer has more:

Nerlens Noel is in the early stages of getting back into his groove after minor knee surgery. However, the 76ers center doesn’t anticipate being sidelined for too long.

“As of right now, I’m still feeling it out myself, probably around a couple of weeks,” Noel said Monday. “I think I’m in a good place right now to start building back into game shape.”

However, Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn’t want to rush things. Brown thinks it will be more like a few weeks.

“I think realistically he hasn’t done anything,” Brown said. “To think that he’s going to come back and play NBA basketball, to me, any sooner than that is a little bit far-reaching.”

The coach said the first step will be integrating him back into the team. “I don’t want to bring him back and, you know, if he’s not ready [and] embarrass himself and not be ready to go,” Brown said. “You want him 100 percent and excited to come back and play.”

The 6-foot-11, 228-pounder has been sidelined since Oct. 6 with inflamed tissue above his left knee. He had surgery to repair the injury on Oct. 24. Noel returned to Philadelphia on Friday night after a three-week rehabilitation stint under the supervision of Kevin Wilk, the associate clinical director of Champion Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Ala.

Noel first worked with Wilk after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February 2013 during his lone season at Kentucky. After surgery by James Andrews, Noel spent 51/2 months with Wilk at Champion Sports before moving to Philadelphia in September 2013. He was acquired by the Sixers in the 2013 draft.

“After the three weeks in Alabama, I definitely think I made a lot of gains, obviously with the Michael Jordan of rehab in Kevin Wilk,” Noel said. “I think he was able to put me in a great position coming back just like he did with my ACL. I’m feeling strong. I think the surgery definitely did help me.”

Noel, 22, said he was in excruciating pain because of the inflammation. He was told by doctors that he could play with it if it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. However, they told him the pain would be unbearable during an 82-game NBA season.

Monday marked Noel’s third straight day of rehabilitation and on-court drills under the supervision of Todd Wright, the Sixers’ head of strength and conditioning. He also has been in team meetings and video sessions. However, he has not practiced with the team.

“It’s coming along well,” Noel said. “It’s good to be back with the staff that I’ve known for a while and getting back into a rhythm. I can’t wait to get back to playing basketball and doing what I do.”

There were some who criticized him for starting rehabilitation in Alabama instead of remaining with the team. Noel said it was just a matter of being the most comfortable with Wilk under the circumstances.

“I went to probably the best physical therapist in the world in my eyes,” he said. “Just speaking of his resumé, he had guys like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, going back to that day. And to this day, he’s a modern-day guru of physical therapy, alongside of Dr. Andrews. So I think that’s self explanatory.”


No. 4: Smart’s speech helps start Celtics’ comeback — The Boston Celtics are fully healthy at last after getting Al Horford and Jae Crowder back in the lineup last week. Yet last night in Minnesota, the Celtics came out flat against the spry Timberwolves and soon found themselves in an 81-68 hole in the fourth quarter. That’s when Boston staged a massive run that fueled a comeback victory, a big part of which began with some tough talk from guard Marcus Smart in a timeout. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald has more:

he Celts were being bludgeoned by the young Timberwolves, getting pounded in the paint, 50-24, and busted on the boards, 41-24, and slapped on the scoreboard, 81-68.

“Smart kind of went at us at the end of the third quarter, and that woke us up — basically saying all the right stuff, that we weren’t playing like we need to be playing,” Isaiah Thomas said. “That kind of turned the switch.”

The Celtics got aggressive, and the Timberwolves went from worthy to wobbly in one quarter, allowing the visitors to come back for a 99-93 victory.

“We had them on their heels, instead of the opposite,” Smart said. “We were just getting whatever we wanted whenever we wanted.”

Said coach Brad Stevens: “You hit a couple (shots), get a couple of stops and you start feeling like you can make a run. And, you know, everything had to go right at that time. Having those guys make big shots was great for them both now and in the future, and then the way that they fought for rebounds, even though we gave up a few open shots that, if Minnesota makes, we may not be standing here talking about a win. Sometimes it’s a make and miss game in that regard, but certainly we fought for every loose ball in that fourth quarter.”

“They were just playing harder than us the whole game before that fourth quarter, and Smart in the timeout came out and he called the whole team out,” Jerebko said. “We had to come out and just play harder than them. We kept moving the ball, kept playing together, getting stops, just kept going for loose balls, and good stuff happened.”

Thomas noted the help of Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau, who burned his last timeout with 5:31 left and his club within four.

“Thibs had called all his timeouts, so that was a big reason why they kind of ran out of gas,” Thomas said. “They were getting open shots, but they were falling short. Give us credit for playing a little harder than them and making them think a little more and getting them uncomfortable.”

That was after Smart got the Celts out of their too-comfortable zone.

“Everybody was (ticked) off at how we were playing the whole game,” Smart said. “We were getting, as we like to call it, punked, and everybody had something to say about it, and we had to change it. Everybody agreed with everybody that we weren’t playing to the caliber that we usually play at.”

Said Thomas, “That second group won that game for us. . . . If it wasn’t for them, we would have had another loss.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Miami Heat plan to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey on Dec. 22 … The Pistons are closing in on a deal that would relocate them to a new arena in downtown Detroit … Tim Hardaway Jr. is reaping the benefits of putting in offseason work on his game … Portland Trail Blazers swingman Allen Crabbe discusses his role with the team, his free agency dalliance with the Brooklyn Nets and much more … This quote from Memphis coach David Fizdale sums up the Grizzlies pretty nicely: “If you’re going to beat us, you really have to earn it. We regrouped. We got cool. But I just told them, I said ‘Guys, we’re from Memphis. There’s nothing cool about us. We’re gritty and don’t lose that edge.’ ” … Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is a big fan of the Houston Rockets’ coaching staff …