Clippers hit back for hard fouls vs. Hornets

LOS ANGELES — Blake Griffin can leap so high and with so much force that he almost suspends belief, along with the laws of gravity. But the Clippers on Monday gleaned something new about their franchise player besides being a transcendent talent and a marketing dream.

Griffin, it appears, has a backbone.

After getting belted, whacked, thumped and otherwise assaulted during the last week, Griffin showed in an otherwise hum-drum, 97-85 drubbing of undermanned New Orleans that he can dish it out as well as he can take it.

When Griffin went up to contest a drive to the basket by New Orleans forward Trevor Ariza, he not only catapulted above Ariza, Griffin drove Ariza to the floor with a blow from his forearm.

The wallop drew a whistle for a Flagrant Foul 1 from the officials, the ire of Ariza and a rebuke from New Orleans coach Monty Williams. But it drew nods of approval from his teammates, who had begun to wonder how much abuse Griffin would take after getting clobbered with a forearm by Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins, being sent sprawling by the Hornets’ Jason Smith’s shoulder charge and shoved in the back by Memphis’ Marc Gasol in the previous three games.

“The man had enough,” Clippers forward Kenyon Martin said. “He ain’t got but two cheeks. You can only turn ’em so many times.”

The spotlight had begun to turn on Griffin, who has been increasingly treated with physical play and hard fouls when he prepares to assault the rim. Most notably, two of the more stern fouls he’s received have come from Perkins and Timofey Mozgov, players he has famously dunked on.
“He’s no fool,” Williams said of Griffin, who had another emphatic dunk amongst his 20 points. “He knows he’s making people look crazy and guys don’t like that. He’s got to expect some of that. If you jump five feet over somebody and dunk it, you’ve got people coming up to you and grabbing you and hugging you after you do it, the opponent is not going to say, ‘Oh, man, could you do that again? I didn’t see that one.'”

Smith’s foul was the most egregious because there was little attempt to block Griffin’s shot. Instead, Smith threw a shoulder block at Griffin on a fast break, sending him sprawling. Smith was ejected from the game, but not before waving his arms to incite the crowd and slapping fans’ hands as he left the court. Smith earned a two-game suspension, which meant he was not in attendance Monday.

Griffin said his foul of Ariza, who drew a technical foul for going after Griffin, was not in response to Smith’s foul, nor to issue a statement about his toughness.

“I didn’t do that for myself,” Griffin said. “As a team, we talked about not giving up layups, not giving up easy points, making teams earn it [at the free-throw line] just like they’re doing to us. So that’s what that was.”

Williams found it hard to believe that Griffin’s foul was not in response to what happened in New Orleans. The same, he said, for Reggie Evans’ foul of guard Greivis Vasquez right in front of the Clippers bench with 6.8 seconds left.

“When you do that right after what just happened in New Orleans, you have to question the motive,” said Williams, who sent a text to Griffin on Friday apologizing for Smith’s foul. “To come back the very next game and do that doesn’t make sense. You can easily just go straight up and just foul the guy. You don’t have to grab him and slam him to the ground. That’s where you have to ask yourself is that warranted?

“Look, Reggie Evans fouls Greivis Vasquez with seven seconds left on the clock and then the crowd [which chanted Reg-gie, Reg-gie] applauds him and their bench is screaming and hollering.

“And see when Jason does that and he incites the crowd, he’s looked at as the knucklehead.”

A generation ago, Smith’s foul would have been met with shrugs rather than outrage. But as the culture of the NBA has changed in many ways in recent years, the league’s response to flagrant fouls provides a window into how its morphed.

Whereas coaches or teammates might have once offered to pay fines, which would have amounted to a few hundred dollars, or employed a designated enforcer – Charles Oakley took care of Michael Jordan in his early years – the NBA has sought to remove message-sending fouls, like Kevin McHale’s famous clotheslining of Kurt Rambis that appeared to alter the path of the 1985 NBA Finals.

Ron Artest was suspended for a game during the playoffs last year for laying out J.J. Barea with a forearm, and Andrew Bynum was suspended twice last season for flagrant fouls, which cost him nearly $850,000.

In Smith’s case, the two-game suspension without pay cost him $75,000 in lost salary, a relative pittance. When asked before the game what he made of Smith’s effusive postgame apology Thursday, Griffin shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Griffin said he would never ask a teammate to retaliate for him, but Caron Butler said that players had discussed ways to ensure that the punishment Griffin receives abates.

“We’ll see what happens after the next one,” Butler said.

But Martin said it was up to Griffin to take care of matters.

“Ain’t no bounty system,” he said. “Guys have to take up for themselves. Blake’s got a name now, so teams are going to do anything to throw him off. I commend him for the way he’s handled it.”

Griffin said he has been doing his best not to retaliate, something that might earn him an ejection or, worse, a suspension – something a team fighting for a playoff berth cannot afford.

“The appropriate response is not really responding,” Griffin said. “You can’t let anybody see that it affects you, even if it does. You just get up and go to the free-throw line or take the ball out and do whatever. For me, just trying to pop back up as soon as that happens is something I want to do. That’s what they say: Never let them see you sweat, never let them see what you’re feeling or what you’re thinking. Sometimes that’s tougher than others, but for the most part these past several games, I’ve taken a lot of hard fouls and that’s important.”