Blake Griffin didn’t need to write a book demanding the damn ball. He didn’t do it in a poem or skit or commercial, either, though he does plenty of those.
With the Lakers as his backdrop, it happened organically. He implored the ball. Demanded it. Breathed it. Lived it. And the Clippers loved it.
Griffin scored a game-high 39 points Friday as the Clippers built a comfortable lead, squandered it, got it back and hung on for a 118-111 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center.
And in an end eerily similar to the Clippers’ season opening victory one day earlier, Griffin was at the free-throw line in the biggest moment. With 21 seconds left, Griffin knocked down both free throws to give the Clippers a three-point lead they wouldn’t lose.
The 25-year-old star is coming into his own, and Friday’s game against the Lakers, in which his teammates fed him in the post and he delivered, was another step in that progression. It was one to remember.
"Tonight was the night where he started to understand who he is and how good he is," said Chris Paul, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. "He demanded the ball, and I think that was great. Every time he posts and says ‘Bring it,’ it’s like music to our ears because he deserves it. He is our go-to guy."
To have Paul sign off on that is important for the Clippers. Paul was dealing with his friend Kobe Bryant guarding him, so he told his teammates they would need to step up on offense. They did. Jamal Crawford scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to kickstart the Clippers’ comeback.
After Griffin’s free throws, Kobe Bryant missed a 3-pointer on the other end, and after two more free throws by J.J. Redick, the Clippers moved to 2-0.
They haven’t been pretty wins, but Griffin has been invaluable in both. He’s scored a combined 62 points with seven assists and 14 rebounds.
He asked for the ball Friday and when he got it, he made shots.
"It feels good that my teammates time in and time out make plays for our team," Griffin said. "It feels good to contribute to that. That’s what we need, all contributing. It happened to be my time tonight."
And maybe all season. He’s averaging more points (31) than LeBron James in this young season and already is the subject of national chatter about MVP candidates.
Griffin is scoring in so many ways: via that improved jumper, which he’s said he doesn’t want to fall in love with (it’s not his day job), from 3-point range (both came Friday with the shot clock winding down), and of course, dunking and those shots inside. Winning games for your team, especially making free throws late to seal wins, just like he’s done the first two games of the season, that’s all most-valuable stuff.
"It’s the work that carried over from last year and that I put in this summer," Griffin said. "When you know you deposited a lot of money, you feel good about writing checks. That’s kind of what I’m doing now. It gives me the confidence to know I’ve worked on this and put the time in this. At the same time, I still have to do the things that make us successful."
After a season-opening scare, in which the Clippers thwarted Oklahoma City 93-90, coach Doc Rivers told Griffin he was proud of him. He can keep repeating that theme.
And Griffin can keep singing a confident, successful tune. One his teammates like the sound of very much. The sound of the ball going through the hoop on those free throws is another good one.
"The confidence comes from the time I spent working on it," Griffin said. "To go to the line and hit free throws in a real situation, a real pressure situation, is confidence building. But, it’s two games. I’ve got a lot of work to do still."