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Blake Griffin is still a star

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Blake Griffin came back to Los Angeles and showed his former team what they’re missing.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Before today’s game against the Detroit, someone was asking me what I was planning to write about Blake Griffin; honestly, my plan was not to. As a fan, I loved Blake more than just about any Clipper in my lifetime, but he isn’t a part of the current iteration of this team. I was far more interested in how LA would dominate the weaker Pistons and how Tobias Harris would assert himself against a team that had traded him.

As it turns out, neither of those things happened. The Clippers got blitzed early, and Harris never really found his footing as LA lost a close one. Detroit may be a worse team than the Clippers in terms of record, and the collective talent level definitely favors LA. But the Pistons had Blake Griffin, and he reminded us that he is still a part of the Clippers story, whether he wants to be or not.

There is a prevailing narrative that the Griffin trade that netted LA Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, and the draft pick that eventually became Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a win for both teams. The Clippers were able to reset their cap sheet and move on from Lob City while the Pistons got their face of the franchise, a real star around whom they could build their team, and their promotional campaigns. As Detroit has sputtered this season, at 17-23 entering this game, and LA remains one of the feel-good stories of the league, there has been some talk that the Clippers won the trade. Griffin made it emphatically clear Saturday that, at least as of this point, the Pistons are not losers.

Griffin scored 44 points on 23 shot attempts and added 8 rebounds and 5 assists. He even had one dunk that elicited memories of his early days in Los Angeles (which just sounds better when Ralph Lawler is calling it).

Meanwhile, Harris, Bradley, Marjanovic, and Gilgeous-Alexander combined for 23 points and 11 rebounds. It was a bad game for the perimeter starters, and Boban never even saw the floor.

For the season, the foursome is obviously providing more value than Griffin individually. But not a single Clipper has scored 40 points this season, a total Griffin has hit twice. When Detroit needed to close the game, the Pistons put the ball in his hands every single possession, and he made the necessary plays to win, whether that was getting to the basket, hitting jumpers, or cleanly passing out of double teams to open shooters.

Griffin was a star in every sense of the word Saturday, inspiring his teammates with not only the significance of this game, but also his play on the court. He finished his star turn after the game, commanding the largest media scrum I’ve seen this season.

Yes, Griffin no longer dons a Clipper uniform, and there are numerous reasons why it made sense for he and this team to part ways. Too many years of heartbreak made it necessary to move on. But it was hard to watch Griffin go against this year’s group and not compare the current Clippers’ performance to that of the player they gave up. As long as Tobias Harris is taking the floor in Los Angeles, he will be judged against Griffin, even if it is subconsciously.

The Clippers prioritized their future over the present when they traded away Blake Griffin. The goal is to build a team that exceeds the heights Lob City reached; ideally, LA wants another star who is better than Griffin ever was. The trade was a risk, but it’s one the franchise felt it had to take in order to eventually win a championship.

For now, Saturday was a reminder that Griffin was, and still is, pretty damn good. There is no guarantee the Clippers will ever have someone else who plays as well he did in their uniform.