It goes without saying that Blake Griffin has been outstanding in this his rookie season. 27 consecutive double doubles; averages of 22 points and almost 13 rebounds per game; 51.5% field goal shooting. But
Sunday Monday afternoon in Staples Center he did something that he hadn't previously accomplished as a pro - he carried the Clippers to victory.
He's been good in the 14 prior Clipper victories to be sure. But to this point in the season, when the Clippers have played well enough to win, they've gotten major contributions up and down their lineup.
On Sunday Today, Griffin had 47 (an NBA high so far this season), Eric Gordon had 23, Baron Davis had 14, and no other Clipper reached double figures. Griffin made 19 of 24 shots, and 9 of 11 from the line. And surprisingly, unlike his prior 40 point effort, when he scored 44 against the Knicks, he did his damage today without the benefit of a bunch of breakaway dunks and lobs. Instead, it was workmanlike post ups and a face up game clicking like we've never seen before.
In most of Blake's earlier big games, the Clippers have come up empty. When he scored 44 against the Knicks, they lost. When he went for 35 and 30 in two games against Utah and 31 against Atlanta, the Clippers weren't able to hold on to leads. In fact, including today's win, the team is just 2-4 when Griffin scores 30 or more. It may be that the rest of the team gets a little too complacent when Blake is rolling, but then when the defense tightens up late in the game the Clippers have no where else to turn. That might help explain the fact that the Clippers have lost big leads in several games in three of the games in which Griffin has gone for 30.
But not today. Against the Pacers Griffin had it going the whole game. He converted almost 80% of his shots. When they double teamed him, he found the open man. And when he didn't get the ball in the offensive set, he often got the rebound, or drew a loose ball foul trying. Most importantly, down the stretch as the game tightened up, Griffin delivered. He scored 11 of the Clippers final 16 points, and assisted on the other 5. Considering that everyone in the building knew where the ball was going, that's remarkable. Oh, and did I mention that the guy is 21?
The Clippers needed everything he had to give today. The Pacers came out on fire, particularly Darren Collison and Danny Granger. Collison scored 17 in the first quarter, and combined with Granger for 62 on the game. Although the Clippers played some pretty solid half court defense in the second half, it seemed like the Pacers were able to get to the line or hit a big three when they need points. Indiana made 11 of 25 threes on the game, coming close to repeating their 14 for 26 feat from the first meeting. But although the Pacers put plenty of points on the board, they had no answer for Griffin.
Consider this: while Danny Granger made four three pointers and James Posey made three, neither of them had game high honors for three point plays. That distinction went to Griffin, who had an astounding five traditional three point opportunities on the afternoon, and converted them all. The official total shooting percentage calculation uses an NBA wide constant to account for and-ones and technical free throws when converting free throws into possessions, but in this particular game, we know that Griffin actually scored 47 points on 27 chances (24 shots and six free throws that weren't part of and-ones). That's like shooting 87% from the field, without making a single three point field goal. That's flat out ridiculous.
Of course Blake did have some help, particularly from Gordon and Davis, who each had efficient games. Gordon scored 23 points on 15 shots, and also contributed 7 assists. It was the Gordon/Griffin pick and roll that got Griffin into scoring position time and again, and EJ's drive and dunk on the Clippers last possession of the third quarter was a huge momentum play in a very close game. Meanwhile Davis had 12 assists versus only one turnover, and although he didn't shoot great (he had multiple drives to the basket where the ball just seemed determined to trickle out), he led the 9-0 run that gave the Clippers a 10 point lead and control of the game midway through the fourth quarter, and also hit a dagger three pointer (assist, Blake Griffin) in the final two minutes. The Clippers as a team had 29 assists on 44 field goals, on the heels of 28 assists against the Lakers and 33 against the Heat. Ball movement is fast becoming a calling card of this team, which is among the more unexpected developments of this unexpected season.
The Clippers have now won five straight home games, five of their last six overall, and 10 of 14. At 15-25, they are 'only' 10 games below .500, a not insignificant accomplishment when you consider their 1-13 start to the season. And they now have something they've never had as a franchise - a superstar who can single handedly deliver a victory.