Blake Griffin wasn’t on the floor for overtime, for Chris Paul taking over once again. But he built the lead that got the Clippers to overtime, in one of the most complete and versatile performances of his career, slowly breaking out of the ‘Just Dunking’ label, meanwhile possibly winning his first postseason series.
This is still Chris Paul’s team. Griffin is the more popular guy in terms of viral effect and youtube views, but there’s not an active player who can garner the attention, good and bad, that Griffin gets on the various video websites except for LeBron James. Last year everybody loved Blake and his dunking ways. This season? Suddenly he’s not globally loved like he was a year ago. The flopping has helped with that.
Chris Webber called out Griffin for his flopping in the 101-97 win, but he was also targeted by the Grizzlies. Double and triple teamed, along with a few dirty moves. Zach Randolph got a technical for one of the dirty moves. Still, the Grizzlies couldn’t get Griffin to slip out of his skin and lose it. He did foul out, but he also finished with 30 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists.
Some would call it a breakout game for Griffin. Not because of the numbers and his 7 assists, but because of the way he played and kept his cool despite the Grizzlies trying to take him out of the game. Because of how he demanded the ball in the post and how he attacked the basket. He got to the line 17 times, making only 10 of them, but not all problems get solved in one night.
There were the dunks, the usual alley oops, that get the crowd going and fill another highlight reel. But Griffin has been criticized all season about needing to break out of the ‘Lob City’ label. Time to become a complete power forward who can do more than leap higher than everyone else. For the first time in his career, he did it, for an entire postseason game. That was the big surprise about the game. Chris Paul coming up big in overtime? We’ve seen that movie already.
But Griffin did foul out. He did a great job on Marc Gasol, limiting the Spanish Center to 8 point and only 5 rebounds. Gasol has generally struggled to make a big impact in the series, averaging 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting only 46.4% from the field. Griffin is averaging 21.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. It’s not always the numbers, but he does when he doesn’t produce them.
Reggie Evans’ emergence from laughing stock into a real influence from the bench has also helped the Clippers surprise many by the way they’ve outplayed the Grizzlies, with many feeling the Grizzlies have what it takes to go all the way this season, especially with Randolph back in the lineup. Evans isn’t scoring (only 3.3 points) but he sets the tone on defense and doing an excellent job on the board (8.3).
Somehow, with Caron Butler playing with one arm, without Chauncey Billups and with an injured Mo Williams, the Clippers are not just hanging in there; they’re setting the tone for this series. Yes, it’s mostly Chris Paul just playing the best basketball of his career.
But it’s also Griffin evolving into a more complete player while the Clippers finally show some consistent defense as a team. It might not be enough when the Spurs come knocking by in the next round, but winning a playoff series isn’t something of the norm on the red side of LA. In fact, if the Clips do finish off the Grizzlies in one of the next three games, it’ll only be the second time they win a postseason series since moving from Buffalo.