We compartmentalise everything we talk about; everything we look at; everything we do.
And it’s very easy to label something or someone. It’s much harder though, to shake a label once it’s on you.
Blake Griffin: Athletic Freak.
Blake Griffin: Dunk Machine.
Blake Griffin: Dunk Contest Champion.
Blake Griffin: Mayor of Lob City.
How about this one?
Blake Griffin: Great All-Around Player.
At age 26, Griffin may just be the most complete basketball player in the game not named LeBron James.
And as the Clippers try to rebound from the devastation of their Game 6 collapse and stave off elimination on Monday (Australian time), Griffin will need to prove that he is.
In the biggest game of his career, we will find out just how complete he has become.
If Chris Paul’s absence in the first two games of the Western Conference Semi-Finals showed us anything, it was that Blake Griffin’s game has truly evolved. No longer someone who just tries to dunk everything, Griffin has become one of those rare bigs who you run an offense through and can control a game.
”He’s incredible. He gets in the middle of the field and kind of just picks people apart like Tom Brady,” said Matt Barnes following the Clippers Game 1 victory against Houston and Griffin’s second straight triple-double.
In fact, Griffin has three triple-doubles already this post-season. Next best is … well no-one. I’m not counting James Harden’s “look at me – I’m still in a 20-point blowout game with 2 minutes to go to grab my 10th rebound” moment in Game 5. You can’t make me!
So Blake is the only player with a (legit) trip-dub these playoffs … and he’s done it three times.
That all-around game has been hotly talked about lately, and for good reason.
Is he the MVP of the playoffs thus far? Seriously, who has played better than Griffin this post-season?
*crickets*Griffin’s game has evolved this season from the outside in. Often criticised for taking too many jump shots, he has continued to improve in that area, scoring 28.5% of his points from mid-range (up from 17.8% in 2013/14). His improvement has forced defences to respect his jumper and in turn, opened up his driving lanes.
In Round 1 the Spurs gave Blake that shot early on, but once he started hitting, they had to contest it.
Griffin took advantage of that newfound respect at an incredibly efficient rate this season, scoring on 94.8% of his driving attempts during the regular season (up from 92.2% last season). By comparison, LeBron hit on 74.7% of his driving attempts.
Hitting a career best .728 FT% also means defences could no longer rely on sending him to the line when he drove to the basket.
With the expansion of his game on the perimeter, Griffin’s work on the glass has been inconsistent – especially at the offensive end. That’s true. However, he found other ways to contribute to his team’s offensive success and that’s where the biggest change can be seen.
Griffin has grown into one of, if not the best playmaking big man in the game. He averaged a career-high 5.3 assists per game after never having topped 4 dimes previously. His assist percentage (26.2 % this season) was 7% higher than last season, while his usage percentage was actually lower this year.
As impressive as those numbers are, Griffin has taken these aspects of his game to a whole new level during the post-season. He’s managed to strike the perfect balance between inside and outside and the Clippers have been reaping the benefits.
Operating predominantly from the high-post, he’s been able to create for himself or his teammates, attack the paint and make the right plays. His assist percentage has increased further (up to 27.9%), while he’s averaging a staggering 6.2 dimes per game. Not bad for a power forward!
“He’s like a second point guard on the floor … he is a phenomenal decision maker and passer,” said Jeff Van Gundy about Griffin on the Lowe Post podcast this week.
To be fair, his jump shot has struggled against Houston (hitting just 7-22 on mid-range attempts) but Houston has still recognised his ability there, which has enabled Blake to go 16-16 on driving dunks or layups. He’s been dominant on the low block too, right J-Smoove?
More impressively, he’s also averaging a whopping 12.8 rebounds per game this post-season. Time and time again he has cleaned the glass, started the break and then made the right play in transition or in the half-court.
(Well – and this one, which got me excited yesterday.)
Let’s face it: D-Rose smiles more often than power forwards exhibit that kind of play-making ability off the dribble.
“I think we all knew how good he was. I think we’re all starting to find out how good of a passer he is,” said Coach Doc Rivers during the first round. “As much as I’ve talked about it for two years, I think now everybody’s starting to notice and it’s important for us.”
It sure was important against the Spurs as Griffin’s second triple-double of the series came in the deciding seventh game.
To illustrate Griffin’s all-around contributions in that series, consider this: the Clippers have the NBA’s leading rebounder and league leader in assists, yet when the Spurs series was done Griffin had just 1 less total rebound than Jordan and 3 less dimes than Paul, while leading the team in scoring.
But his versatile game will never be more important than in Game 7 vs Houston. Griffin will need to control the game and shoulder the load. He will need to embrace the moment, just as CP3 did in Game 7 against the Spurs.
Griffin was the best player on the court for three quarters in Game 6. He had 28 and 7 and was 12-15 from the floor heading into the 4th. With the Clippers holding a 13 point lead, it seemed they would go on to win easily.
“We took our foot off the gas, stopped defending, a lot of things,” said Griffin, who grabbed just 1 rebound and failed to score in the final quarter.
As good as Griffin has been these playoffs, it hasn’t been that way all season. In fact, at one point early on it seemed his game was heading in the wrong direction. He had become too perimeter orientated and he was no longer the attacking Blake Griffin we knew.
Some of that may have to do with the pounding he’s had to endure since entering the league. Dunk on enough people and they’ll soon retaliate. Griffin has been labelled one of the most hated players in the game amongst his peers and that can wear on you.
The best way to earn respect though is by winning and advancing deep into the playoffs. To do so, Griffin has to play at the level he has been, but for four quarters.
Advance to the Conference Finals and his peers will begrudgingly respect him.
Blake knows that. He’s right on the cusp of doing it and despite two hiccups in close-out games, the way he’s been playing – more focused on winning than dunking (tell that to Aron Baynes!) – Griffin’s respect is right there for the taking.
“It’s about who wants it more,” said Griffin about Game 7.
There are certain moments in each player’s career that come to define them. That time is now for Blake Griffin.
We all know what’s at stake. Win and the Clippers will advance to the WCF for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year history.
Amidst the pressure, Griffin is trying to stay level-headed.
“It’s an accomplishment, but it’s not our goal. It’s a goal on the way to the bigger goal,” he said.
Griffin has clearly matured from someone chasing highlight reels to a player chasing a ring and he’s doing whatever it takes for his team to achieve that ‘bigger goal’. Scoring, rebounding, passing, solid defence: all-around game. Elite game.
Most hated player, Mayor of Lob City; forget those. Griffin doesn’t care much for labels anyway.
He just wants to win.
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