Editor’s note: During the NBA stoppage, we’ll take an occasional look back at some great moments in Clippers history. Today, we look back at Blake Griffin’s rookie season.
Blake Griffin was a walking mixtape during his first NBA season.
He was instantly the best player on the Clippers and made the team relevant again for the first time in about five years. They were must-see TV when Griffin was playing because you never knew when he would bust out a SportsCenter-worthy highlight.
But Griffin was always so much more than a dunker. He was truly a complete basketball player. He could handle, he could create for his teammates, he could run a break, and he was an excellent scorer. Once he got into the paint, who was stopping him?
That’s why it was probably only a matter of time until Griffin collected his first ever triple-double. Griffin averaged 22.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in this rookie year and set a single-season Clipper record with 63 double-doubles. He was bound to get 10 assists at some point, and the hapless Washington Wizards (who were 1-32 on the road entering the game, which is an unbelievable stat to look at) proved to be the perfect opponent.
The Wizards must have been particularly aggrieved by Griffin that season. JaVale McGee had just lost to Griffin in the dunk contest the month prior, despite putting up one of the better runner-up performances (non-Aaron Gordon division). Meanwhile, Washington had finally drafted a player who could be the team’s star of the future in John Wall, and he would be a distant second place to Griffin in Rookie of the Year voting.
And on this night, March 23, 2011, Griffin would put together arguably the most complete performance of his rookie year against these very same Wizards. In an overtime win against Washington, Griffin played 51 minutes and recorded 33 points (14-of-19 shooting), 17 rebounds, and 10 assists. His tenth assist sealed the game for the Clippers, as he passed out of a double-team in the paint to hit Randy Foye on the wing for a 3-pointer to put the team up six with 46.1 seconds to play.
It’s unclear what Flip Saunders was thinking trying to contain Griffin with Yi Jianlian as his primary defender. To be fair, Trevor Booker and McGee were also equally ill-equipped to handle Griffin’s rare combination of skill and athleticism, so it’s possible Saunders didn’t have the horses in this matchup. Just look at what Griffin does to poor McGee, and at an important moment in the game when the Clippers need to keep pace in overtime.
That triple double was the first of two during Griffin’s rookie season, and 13 so far in his career, including three postseason triple-doubles. The stakes may not have been incredibly high on a Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards, but Griffin was fine-tuning his skill set for later.
Looking back on Griffin’s rookie season, it’s hard to see past the dunks. Griffin’s triple-doubles proved he wasn’t only a high-flyer — he could do just about everything on a basketball court.