Afterwinning 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’s tears of triumph paid the tab.
Lost in that epic Game 7 was Blake Griffin’s triple-double, buthe 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’s 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’s first opportunity to truly lead the Clippers on the court. Admittedlynever 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’s 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’t crumble, especially in games like this. We’ve 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’t 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’s 7.9 APG.
“He’s terrific,” Rivers said. “We said it before the game. Without Chris on the floor, Blake’s 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’s incredible,” Clippers forwardMatt Barnessaid. “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’t honor him, he will shoot the jumper, or go by you. But if you’re 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’s like a grown-man triple-double right there.”
“I’m not sure there’s a better passing 4-man than Blake,” sharp shooting guardJ.J. Redickadded. “He’s 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’ve always had a lot of trust in Blake,” sharp shooting guardJamal 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’s why he’s 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’s only 26. He’s as good as there is in the league, and he’ll 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’t 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 evenwho so ever comes out of the East over the Clippers is somewhat understandable. To now be surprised with their continued success given Griffin’s emergence into the next level, however, isn’t. 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 email@example.com.