After¬†winning what head coach Doc Rivers dubbed, “a series of the ages,” in an epic Game 7 over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers rode that momentum all the way to Houston and to a decisive victory in the Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
The Clippers won impressively without the help of their star point guard, Chris Paul, who sat out due to a strained hamstring sustained in Game 7 on Saturday while he was putting up 27 points including the game-winning shot in the final seconds. In that game, pain was the price, and Paul‚Äôs tears of triumph paid the tab.
Lost in that epic Game 7 was Blake Griffin‚Äôs triple-double, but¬†he followed up on that feat against the Rockets on Monday with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. Griffin is the first to accomplish back-to-back triple-doubles in the postseason since Jason Kidd in 2002.
The points and rebounds were expected given Griffin‚Äôs star stature and position of power forward. However, the double-digit assists for the second straight playoff game is the most impressive stat because not only it shows how much of a complete player he is, but also his ability to fill the leadership void when Paul went down.
Game 1 of this crucial playoff series against the Rockets was Griffin‚Äôs first opportunity to truly lead the Clippers on the court. Admittedly¬†never one to be rah rah vocal like Paul, Griffin is more of hands on and direction setter with his play.
“I said a lot of different things throughout the game,” Griffin said. “My main message throughout the entire game was just to stay together. There‚Äôs no reason for us to just ever crumble or fall apart. We were down 11 or 13 in the first or second quarter and we just can‚Äôt crumble, especially in games like this. We‚Äôve seen so many things happen. So that was really my message to the team.
“I mean with CP, obviously besides his on-court production, you miss his leadership and his talks, and that void needs to be filled, but I kind of have to do it in my own way. I can‚Äôt just emulate Chris,” he said. “But everybody just responded, everybody was talking tonight, everybody was filling that void.”
Many in the media laud LeBron James for his ability to play the point guard position pretty well despite being a natural small forward. Griffin is showing now in the playoffs that he can do the same very well too. In terms of assists per game in the postseason, he is the only forward among the top five in that statistical category with 8.1 APG, more than Paul‚Äôs 7.9 APG.
“He‚Äôs terrific,” Rivers said. “We said it before the game. Without Chris on the floor, Blake‚Äôs our point guard. Everybody else is just guards. One of the things we told all the guards today is to just be aggressive scorers, and let Blake be the facilitator. I thought we did that after we had the turnover-fest in the first half.”
“He‚Äôs incredible,” Clippers forward¬†Matt Barnes¬†said. “He gets in the middle of the field and picks people apart, kind of like Tom Brady. He catches it at the free-throw line, sometimes the 3-point line. If you don‚Äôt honor him, he will shoot the jumper, or go by you. But if you‚Äôre on it, he will take that all the way, and he will find shooters. So, what can you say? [His] 26, 13 and 14, that‚Äôs like a grown-man triple-double right there.”
“I‚Äôm not sure there‚Äôs a better passing 4-man than Blake,” sharp shooting guard¬†J.J. Redick¬†added. “He‚Äôs going to make the right decision 90 percent of the time. He did that tonight and he was fantastic.”
Just like many in the media laud Anthony Davis for becoming a more complete, MVP caliber player in his third year in the league, Griffin is proving in the playoffs his ability to lead him self and his teammates around him in the right direction offensively while finally forming a formidable duo with center DeAndre Jordan and leading the league in rebounds per game with 13.3 a piece.
“We‚Äôve always had a lot of trust in Blake,” sharp shooting guard¬†Jamal Crawford said. “If we could draw anything from CP going down, it was that Blake had grown as a playmaker and a guy that we could obviously play through. He knows when to score, he knows when to set his teammates up, and that‚Äôs why he‚Äôs one of the best players in the league. I think the world is truly seeing how good he is, and there are still levels for him to go, and he‚Äôs only 26. He‚Äôs as good as there is in the league, and he‚Äôll continue to get better.”
There were always doubts when it came to the Clippers in the playoffs. In the last series, Doc Rivers had to pass out a sheet of paper to everyone on the team showing all of the media “experts” who picked the Spurs over them. I picked the Clippers but wasn‚Äôt featured in the sheet because that would soften the statement Rivers was trying to make.
The idea that the professional prognosticators would pick the Rockets over the Clippers or the Golden State Warriors over the Clippers or even¬†who so ever comes out of the East over the Clippers is somewhat understandable. To now be surprised with their continued success given Griffin‚Äôs emergence into the next level, however, isn‚Äôt. And if it takes a similar performance in Game 2 on Wednesday, then so be it.
Tony Capobianco started the SMDP column “Cap Space” just in time for the 2014-15 Clippers season. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.