The Los Angeles Clippers have won three-straight playoff games thanks in large part to Blake Griffin, who has taken his game to a new level.
The Clippers staved off elimination in a Game 6 in San Antonio, knocked off the Spurs in Game 7, and stole Game 1 from the Rockets in Houston Monday night without Chris Paul, giving them homecourt advantage in the second round.
In these three huge wins, Griffin has been a monster. He’s averaging 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game while shooting 50% from the field and 90% from the free throw line.
In the playoffs, Griffin already has three triple-doubles — one less than his career total in five NBA seasons.
Basketball Insider’s Tommy Beer put Griffin’s postseason into context:
Blake Griffin is the only player in the last 30 years to tally at least 24 points, 13 rebs & 10 assists in consecutive playoff games.
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) May 5, 2015
Griffin’s postseason explosion comes after a regular season that saw him regress in many statistical categories — points per game, field goal percentage, rebounds, steals, and blocks — from the season before. When Griffin missed 15 games with a staph infection in his elbow, the Clippers continued to play well, causing some people to question how integral he was to their team going forward.
He’s left no question about that in these playoffs. With Griffin on the floor, the Clippers have outscored opponents by over six points per 100 possessions, a big number when considering how close their seven-game series with the Spurs was. When Griffin is on the bench, the Clippers are getting clobbered — their defensive rating has plummeted to 132.1 and they have been outscored by 32 points per 100 possessions.
Doc Rivers has been forced to play Griffin heavy minutes due to the Clippers’ weak bench. Griffin is averaging 41 minutes per game in these playoffs and he’s played an NBA-high 328 minutes in the postseason. The fatigue may have caused him to make big-time blunders in losses to the Spurs — a last-second turnover in Game 2 and missed free throws in Game 5 — but they shouldn’t overshadow how important he’s been.
Griffin’s offensive versatility in the playoffs has been huge for the Clippers. He’s put to rest fears from the regular season that he’s become too reliant on jump shots and doesn’t attacking the rim the same way he did his first four years in the league.
According to Basketball-Reference, in the regular season, 33% of Griffin’s shots came from 0-3 feet, 19% came from 3-10 feet, and 38% came from 16 feet to the three-point line. In the playoffs, Griffin has distributed his shots more evenly, taking 38.5% of his shots from 0-3 feet, 23% from 3-10 feet, and 24% from 16 feet to the three-point line. While his shooting percentages have dipped, a common occurrence in the playoffs, his mixture of moves make him more difficult to defend.
He’s unstoppable going to the rim:
While the Spurs lacked the athletic, mobile bigs to stay in front of Griffin, the Rockets match up better. Still, Griffin remains bigger and stronger than any of the Houston’s power forwards, so he can use those advantages in the post:
And with Griffin becoming a force around the basket and a reliable midrange shooter, he’s opening up shots for his teammates.
The above clip is an example of poor rotations by the Spurs, but Griffin passes up an ok midrange shot for a great shot from Chris Paul.
Here, Griffin makes a terrific fake pass to a cutting DeAndre Jordan and finds a wide open Austin Rivers. The Rockets will grant Rivers, a career 32% three-point shooter, open shots, but you can’t ask Griffin to get him a better look:
Clippers forward Matt Barnes described Griffin’s dominance to USA Today’s Sam Amick:
“Ooh, man. He’s the best player on the court every night, and I think he knows that. That’s big for us. I think he had so much so fast (earlier in his career) that the world expected (too much) and it’s been a learning process. He’s definitely one of the best players, and the best player on our team. His maturity, to know when to attack, to know when to make plays, to really be a legitimate point forward and put pressure on the other team, playing both ends. He’s been big for us.”
Griffin has been carrying the Clippers. They managed to beat a deep Spurs team that most people considered the second-best team in the West. Despite an abysmal bench, L.A. still managed to beat the Spurs twice in a row in Games 6 and 7 to win the series.
That the Clippers were able to steal Game 1 from the Rockets on the road without Paul bodes poorly for the Rockets. The Clippers shifted homecourt back in their favour, and theoretically, should be even better when Paul plays again. If the Clippers can push past the Rockets, they will face the Golden State Warriors, the heavy favourite to win the title. Golden State beat the Clippers three times to one in the regular season. In addition, Draymond Green is one of the only players in the NBA that can match up with Griffin. With the Warriors’ hounding defence and Green’s versatility, the Clippers will have to be creative in opening up space for Griffin, and they will need a good dose of Griffin’s versatility to power them through.
There’s reason to believe Griffin could make that series competitive, particularly if Paul is healthy.
If the Clippers were ever worried that the Paul-Griffin-Jordan trifecta wasn’t good enough to compete for a title, they should be relieved. While they will likely need a much-improved bench to truly compete for the championship, they’re standing on the doorstep, and Griffin is a huge reason why.
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