PHOENIX — Inside a small room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, Blake Griffin lay flat on his back on a training table, trainer Jasen Powell standing over his head, manipulating his neck. Seated in a chair, chiropractor Dennis Colonello directed the examination. Sitting across from Colonello on another table was Coach Vinny Del Negro, his tie removed but not his look of concern.
After about five minutes, Griffin slowly sat up and walked toward the team bus, his neck stiff enough that he could barely turn to his right and not without wincing.
The Clippers were upset about many things after their 93-90 loss to the Suns on Thursday night. The defeat cost them a chance to pull even with the Lakers for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. They were not pleased with the officiating, two controversial foul calls down the stretch souring them, and they bemoaned Mo Williams’ go-ahead 3-pointer rimming out with two seconds left.
But those were trifling matters after watching Griffin get collared and thrown to the ground by Phoenix center Robin Lopez midway through the fourth quarter. Lopez, trying to prevent a fast-break dunk, was issued a flagrant foul 2 and ejected, and could be subject to further discipline by the NBA as well.
But that did little to appease the Clippers.
Mo Williams and Nick Young had jumped in Lopez’s face, with Williams drawing a technical foul, and emotions had not cooled by the time the locker rooms opened to reporters after the game.
“I thought it was dirty,” Del Negro said. “He’s trying to take him down. The league’s got to do something to protect this kid. We can only get so any technical fouls. We can only do so many things. Guys are taking shots at him and I think it’s getting bad.”
Griffin, who will be examined further today, was unsure if his sore neck would cause him to miss any games. He declined to comment on whether the foul was dirty. But he did say: “I’ll let every individual be the judge of (whether it crossed the line), but I know what I felt and I know what the impact of the play was.”
The foul is sure to raise questions about Griffin, just as it did last month when he was similarly laid out by New Orleans’ Jason Smith (who coincidentally will be seeing Griffin in the Clippers’ next game Sunday).
Some players, like Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, are miffed by what they call Griffin’s acting and complaining to officials – he is third in the NBA with 11 technical fouls. Griffin is also frequently the target of hard fouls and on occasion ones that go beyond, like Lopez’s. Some players don’t want to be props for a ferocious dunk — as Pau Gasol and Kendrick Perkins have been this season — while others want to make Griffin, a poor free-throw shooter, earn his points at the line.
Paul was miffed recently when it was suggested that Griffin had become a villain in the eyes of many around the league, but he acknowledged Thursday that that was the case.
“I was told by somebody that he’s public enemy No. 1,” Paul said.
Lopez’s foul is sure to spark speculation about what may happen when the playoffs begin, when the intensity is greater and so are the stakes.
Asked if he expected to see more of these types of fouls in the playoffs, Paul, one of the few Clippers with playoff experience, said: “Probably.”
But Griffin, who has not played in the playoffs before, drew a distinction between a hard foul and the one that Lopez committed.
“There is a line, there’s definitely a line,” Griffin said. “You know you can push all the way up to that line — the line is pretty fine but once you cross it, it gets pretty dangerous. That’s the way it’s been going. The playoffs are going to be full of hard fouls, but there’s a difference between a hard foul when you’re going for the ball or going for someone’s head or whatever it is. Yes, you expect hard fouls but not like that.”
After the play, Griffin, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds, was not much of a factor. Other than making a free throw after the foul, he did not score or have a rebound the rest of the way. His desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was his only shot.
The Suns, who moved into eighth place with the win, played as if their playoff hopes were riding on the outcome. Trailing by eight in the third quarter, Jared Dudley fouled Griffin and confronted him, earning a technical. But Dudley’s fury seemed to spark the Suns.
Griffin seemed to put a stop to hard fouls when he himself committed a flagrant foul 1 against New Orleans’ Trevor Ariza. But Griffin cannot afford a flagrant foul 2, otherwise he would be suspended for a game.
“I don’t know if it’s in the scouting report,” Williams said. “It’s a movie — seen it over and over and over again. There’s going to be some repercussions and I hate to say it, that’s just how it is. They can’t keep hitting the man like that. One day he ain’t going to be able to take it no more, and that’s the last thing the league needs is for that to happen. It’s amazing. I think it’s a matter of coming from the top.”
The Clippers will not see the Suns again unless they were to meet in the playoffs. Paul said that meant he was ready to move on toward games of consequence.
And, regarding Lopez, players of consequence.
“I actually went to the refs and asked them if they could keep him in the game,” Paul said. “We’d rather have him not get ejected. I’d rather him being on the court and that means Channing Frye or somebody might not be. That actually helped them.”