PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – In his third season in the NBA, Clippers forward Blake Griffin is already considered one of the game’s most dynamic and forceful players. He’s also still growing into his role.
Saturday night at Staples Center, Griffin was hit with a second-quarter technical foul against the Utah Jazz and visibly seethed on court. In the third quarter, he virtually took over the game, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds to help the Clippers take control on their way to a 107-94 win.
On one play, Griffin found himself draped defensively by Al Jefferson. But he worked free on the dribble and drove for a dunk over Paul Millsap, who fouled him. On another, he sprawled on the floor to control a loose ball, then flipped it to Chauncey Billups, who passed to Caron Butler for a three-point basket.
It’s the tale of two Blakes – one who occasionally struggles to maintain his composure, and one who is willing to do whatever it takes to win a game.
“Blake’s grown in a lot of areas,” coach Vinny Del Negro said Monday after practice at the Clippers’ practice facility. “He’s got to control some of those emotional things that can be detrimental to the team. He understands that. But we rely a lot on him. I’m more concerned about defense and rebounding and those things. Obviously, he’s improved offensively in areas, and he’s only going to get better because he works hard on it. Blake does what we need.
“His growth has been positive.”
Griffin, in his third NBA season, has a team-leading 18.5 points-per-game average to go with 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. But he also has 11 technical fouls, tied for third most in the league with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
Being able to maintain his composure is critical to his ability to stay in the game and help the team. That’s what he did Saturday, he said.
“It’s really just about being aggressive,” he said. “We felt like down the stretch in the second quarter there were some unfortunate things that were happening. We just decided to forget about it and play through it.”
The Clippers (40-18) will need more of that as they approach the final 24 games of the regular season. They must also figure out how to keep their level of interest high when they face teams that should be easy wins, such as the Charlotte Bobcats, who bring the league’s worst record (13-43) into Staples Center on Tuesday night.
“It’s the NBA, so you kind of never know,” Griffin said. “They’re capable of winning games. They’re capable of playing well. They played well when we played them there. We’ve got to come out and concentrate on us and worry about ourselves and make sure we’re doing our things right and let things take care of themselves.”
If nothing else, the Clippers must avoid any kind of lethargy down the stretch. They’ve lost to Toronto, Phoenix and Washington in the past month, and with the playoffs approaching, consistent performances become more important.
“You can say you don’t want certain things to sink in, but sometimes you look at the records,” forward Caron Butler said. “But still, (they’re) NBA guys, guys that on any given night can have great performances and things can click. We’ve got to make it a not-so-easy night for those guys and play our brand of basketball.”
Another gritty performance from Griffin would help, whether it’s driving to the basket or diving across the floor for a loose ball.
“Sometimes I don’t need to be out there scoring the basketball,” Griffin said. “Sometimes I just need to be playing defense and making hustle plays, passing the ball, doing things like that. But when the opportunity presents itself, you have to be able to take advantage of it. When this team is doing that, that’s when we’re at our best.”