PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Blake Griffin’s primary challenge in the Clippers’ opening-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors might not involve scoring, rebounding or playing defense.
It might be how well he responds to the Warriors’ physical tactics and their attempts to get under his skin.
Thursday afternoon, Griffin preferred to skirt the subject, although he conceded he had heard comments made this week by Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who compared the Clippers’ forward to "a bull in a china shop."
Griffin’s response: "This isn’t my thing. I play basketball. I don’t want to get into a back and forth. I think we’re ready to play, and it sounds like they are too."
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Undoubtedly, both teams are. The Clippers and Warriors are very much rivals, and Griffin has become a lightning rod for what is clearly a mutual animosity.
The Warriors apparently don’t like Griffin’s style, which has resulted in jostling and shoving with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green in previous games this season. And center Jermaine O’Neal, who will likely start in place of the injured Bogut (broken rib), had issues with Griffin both during and after the teams played March 12.
Neither was willing to discuss the root of their staredown and postgame discussion in the hallway at Staples Center, but Thompson may have given a clue about how Griffin is perceived when he told a San Francisco radio station that Griffin "flails his arms" and throws "a random elbow or something that doesn’t rub off too well on guys."
He also said, "And then you do see him flop sometimes, and it’s like, how can a guy that big and strong flop that much? So yeah, I can see how he can get under people’s skin and be frustrating to play against."
If there’s a feud involving the two teams or Griffin and anyone else, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he doesn’t expect it to be a factor in the best-of-seven series. Each game is too precious and too critical to do something that could result in a technical foul or an ejection.
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Besides, Rivers said, a lot of teams have tried to incite Griffin this season.
"Blake is going to be second or third in MVP voting, so whatever teams have tried has not worked," Rivers said. "And that’s on Blake. Whatever it is, Blake is still playing basketball.
"At the end of the day, (he) should look at it as a compliment: Guys are trying anything to stop me. They tried it with Shaq, they tried it with LeBron, and they’re trying it with Blake."
Even if he’s right, the game within the game will bear watching. But at least on the surface, Griffin seems to be ignoring any attempts at gamesmanship by Golden State players.
Asked how he copes with the comments and physical play, he said. "Just go out and play basketball. It doesn’t matter what anybody says, what anybody does, just go out and play basketball."