Griffin wins game, loses popularity contest
LOS ANGELES — Saturday was just another night for Blake Griffin, the NBA's most acrobatic, and increasingly antagonizing, young star.
Once again, his Clippers won. And once again, Griffin made a half-dozen highlight-reel plays — but not many friends.
This time it was the referees, who whistled him for a technical foul as the Clippers rolled to their eighth victory in nine games with a 109-94 rout of the Sacramento Kings.
The victory, coupled with the Lakers' loss in Phoenix, moved the Clips within a half-game of the Lakers of the Pacific Division lead.
This might have been just another ho-hum game, a palette-cleansing sorbet before the Clippers' trip to Memphis and Oklahoma City, if not for what occurred Thursday when the Clippers held off the Kings in Sacramento.
Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, frustrated after fouling out in only 17 minutes, called Griffin "a certified bitch" on the court, challenged Griffin to come get him at the end of the game, and then blasted him to reporters afterward — saying Griffin must be honing his acting skills in Los Angeles and that the NBA babies one of its most marketable stars.
Cousins was fined $25,000 for his remarks, but the last word Saturday – a dictionary full of them – belonged to Griffin.
He scored 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting – the result of eight dunks – along with 14 rebounds and four assists.
He was just as ruthless when asked to address Cousins' comments.
"Well, I first heard about it from my acting coach," Griffin said with a smile. "He sent me an email and obviously he was thrilled. It was a compliment. I guess he's seen some commercials, so I appreciate it."
He paused for a moment.
"Nah," Griffin said. "I don't care. I'm not going back and forth and name-calling players through the media and all that. Just let it go."
Except that Griffin could not. Asked a follow-up question about how Cousins' criticisms cut to the heart of who he is as a player, Griffin wasted no time with his own dig at Cousins — a brilliant talent with a dubious work ethic and attitude whose inability to get along with Paul Westphal (arguably the NBA's most player-friendly coach) led to Westphal's firing in the second week of the season. Cousins also ia tied for the league lead in technical fouls.
"I mean this in the nicest possible way: you have to consider the source," Griffin said.
"If this is somebody that really has been in the league a long time and really knows the ins and outs of the game, and has a great reputation for carrying himself the right way, then it's something I would kind of look at and be like, I really rubbed this guy the wrong way. But someone like that you just keep going."
There was little sign of any bad blood on the court. Cousins, who drew a charge against Griffin, had 15 points and 20 rebounds, though he made only 5 of 19 shots and 5 of 9 free throws. Cousins also caught an elbow in the face from Griffin's backup, Reggie Evans.
Too often he was shaking his head while taking the ball out of the basket after one of Griffin's dunks.
Afterward, when players from both teams shook hands and milled around at center court — unusual for an NBA game — Griffin and Cousins seemed to greet everyone in the opposite uniform, except each other.
If Cousins is peeved at Griffin, he at least has company. The Lakers' Pau Gasol, though he tried to have a sense of humor about twice being dunked on — spectacularly — by Griffin did not appreciate Griffin's shove in the back that sent him tumbling into the front row of seats. Lakers coach Mike Brown called it a dirty play and petitioned the league to have it upgraded to a flagrant 1 foul, which it was Friday.
"I felt like it was just kind of a nudge, then something extra after that, which kind of sold it," Griffin said. "I guess if you send it in that many times and say enough about it you kind of force their hand to do something. I guess that's what that was. Obviously, it wasn't to hurt anybody or do anything other than to cause a missed shot."
The foul on Gasol puts Griffin, who also picked up a flagrant one foul for leveling New Orleans' Trevor Ariza on March 26, in position to be suspended for a regular-season game if he picks up two more flagrant one fouls or a more severe flagrant two foul.
"Would it concern you?" Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said before the game. "It's a concern because it's a physical game out there, but I have a lot of confidence in Blake and the other guys. We're not going out there to try to hurt anybody. But you've got to play physical basketball, especially at this time of the year. It's just going to get amped up as we move forward here."
It was no surprise, then, that Del Negro expressed disappointment that Griffin, along with DeAndre Jordan, picked up technical. Griffin's was for arguing with officials, something he has made a habit of doing.
"It's tough to not complain against a call that you really feel strongly about and there's been a lot of those," Griffin said. "But I have to do a better job. At this point, some people kind of have your number, and they're kind of waiting, and I don't get any leeway. The more I work on it, the more leeway I get and it's not called so tightly."
That comment may earn Griffin a call from the league office, but it is not likely to overshadow the marks he made on the court Saturday. He reached impossibly far behind his head to snag an alley-oop pass from Eric Bledsoe to slam it home on a fastbreak. He stylishly wrapped the ball behind his back on a fastbreak, passing to Bledsoe, who fired it to Nick Young, whose 3-pointer gave the Clippers a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter. (Bledsoe had his own highlight-reel dunk, with Chris Paul flipping the ball off the backboard for him on a breakaway.)
But Griffin's most spectacular play didn't even end up on the scoreboard. As Donte Greene tried to wrap Griffin up as he was headed for a dunk on a fast break, Griffin stumbled and fell to the floor. As he did, he flipped the ball up over his head and it went through the basket.
The officials, however, ruled the basket no good, declaring he had traveled and instead awarded him two free throws. Griffin said he was shocked the ball went in – and that the referees disallowed the basket.
Griffin's signature play, and the tete-a-tete with Cousins, relegated Randy Foye's 25 points and seven 3-pointers to a footnote. The same for Paul's 19 points, 15 assists and seven steals.
Instead, it was suggested, that Griffin has gotten in the heads of not just referees, but opposing players.
"Yeah, I heard about that," Griffin said with a sly grin. "It's not something I embrace – or try to – it just kind of happens. I seem to have had a good week as far as that goes."