OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Blake Griffin buried bank shots, turnaround jumpers and spinning layups. DeAndre Jordan gobbled up rebounds and opposing shots, often flexing his muscles and letting out a roar.
The high-flying finishers who spawned the nickname ”Lob City” are doing far more than dunking in the playoffs. The frontcourt tandem has carried the Clippers to a 2-1 lead in their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors, who have found no answer for either with center Andrew Bogut out with a fractured right rib.
”Just two animals out there just beastin’ right now,” Clippers guard Darren Collison said.
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And both are finally performing in places they haven’t always flourished – on defense, in the playoffs and at the most pivotal points of games.
Since losing Game 1 in Los Angeles, Griffin has dominated David Lee and every other defender the Warriors have thrown his way. And Jordan – who tied a franchise playoff record with 22 rebounds and five blocks in the Clippers’ 98-96 win in Game 3 on Thursday night – has been the kind of rim protector coach Doc Rivers had long believed he could become.
The two big men, both just 25 years old, have caused so much disruption that Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Friday he’s considering changing his starting lineup for Game 4 on Sunday. The most likely swap would insert Draymond Green at power forward and push Lee to center for Jermaine O’Neal in a smaller, quicker lineup.
”We’ve got to figure out a way to present some resistance. I think things are going a little too smoothly for Blake,” Jackson said during a light shootaround at Golden State’s downtown Oakland headquarters.
Griffin has scored 32 and 35 points the past two games, respectively. He’s shooting 64 percent from the floor in the series and has been at his best in the biggest spots.
The All-Star power forward made five straight baskets – three bank shots, a mid-range jumper and a short turnaround – against Lee to open the third quarter in Game 3, part of a run that put the Clippers ahead by 18 points.
”Just continuing to believe,” Griffin said, speaking to reporters at the team’s downtown San Francisco hotel Friday. ”My teammates give me the confidence to go out there and shoot every time I’m open.”
Lee promised he’d be better against Griffin in Game 4. He has mostly been tasked with guarding Griffin by himself, though Jackson hinted more double-teams might be on the horizon.
”He’s playing at a high level right now,” Jackson said. ”We forced him to be a jump shooter, and he’s making jump shots. On the block, he’s aggressive. He’s having an outstanding series capping off an outstanding year.”
While Griffin’s star has shined brightest, Jordan has been the insult-to-injury figure.
The Warriors tried to lure Jordan away from Los Angeles in the summer of 2011, signing him to a four-year, $43 million offer sheet as a restricted free agent. Instead, the Clippers matched the deal.
Now the Warriors – who waived Jeremy Lin and amnestied Charlie Bell to make room for the offer – can only watch Jordan make a major difference on defense while Bogut – acquired in a trade with Milwaukee in March 2012 to be Golden State’s franchise center – sits out with another injury.
Three years ago, though, Jordan’s game was not nearly what it is now.
Jordan fell out of favor at times under former coach Vinny Del Negro, who was let go after the Clippers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Jordan’s rising game speaks to the Clippers’ commitment on defense under Rivers, who challenged the young center to focus on rebounding and protecting the rim this season.
Jordan finished third in voting for the NBA’s defensive player of the year award behind winner Joakim Noah of Chicago and runner-up Roy Hibbert of Indiana.
”These guys really rely on me a lot defensively, and when I’m out there, they have all the confidence in the world in me,” Jordan said. ”So it’s definitely a huge step for me in my career, but at the same time, it’s always something to build on and it’s more motivation for me. As long as I’m my team’s defensive MVP, that’s all that matters to me.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP