DALLAS — If Blake Griffin isn’t the superstar everybody wants him to be, the hulking forward will just have to live with it. His concern is being the superstar the Clippers need him to be with All-Star partner Chris Paul on the shelf for six weeks and L.A.’s top-four position in the West standings very much in jeopardy.
Much the way Kevin Durant faces hostile traps without Russell Westbrook to deflect the attention of double-teams, Griffin knows he’ll, too, come under greater duress without the shield of CP3.
“He commands so much attention offensively that he opens up a lot of things for everybody else,” Griffin said of Paul, who has assisted on 137 of Griffin’s 299 baskets. “With him out it’s going to be different. Depending on the [opponent] it’s going to be different, too, so we have to do a good job of figuring that out quickly and adapting to that.”
That begins in earnest tonight back home at Staples Center against Orlando (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). Griffin put up 25 points, 15 rebounds and five assists Friday night at Dallas, and played huge down the stretch as the Clippers rallied late to beat the Mavs after Paul went down midway through the third quarter. The next night they got annihilated at San Antonio as the gravity of Paul’s separated right shoulder hit home.
The Clippers have a chance to regroup and maintain their position in the tightening West with a favorable schedule for the first three weeks of Paul’s expected six-week absence. Tonight’s game against the Magic kicks off a string of 12 games, 10 against the Eastern Conference, with eight of those against sub-.500 teams, plus Indiana and Toronto. The two West teams they face are the depleted Lakers and Dallas.
Just as Durant has the opportunity to buff up his MVP credentials while Westbrook sits, without Paul, Griffin can potentially enter that conversation and bolster his already worthy resume as the fans’ pick to be an All-Star starter: 22.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 3.1 apg. Despite a career average of 20.0 ppg and 9.2 rpg, the 6-foot-10, 251-pounder continues to get knocked for an incomplete offensive arsenal even though an evolutionary path is clear.
“Sometimes getting to the free throw-line, sometimes hitting jumpers, sometimes being in the post, sometimes doing it assist-wise,” Blake said. “Just trying to keep that sharp and not become methodical and do the same things over and over.”
Griffin has scored in double figures in all 36 games this season, including 20 points or more in 23 games and 30 or more in five games. He’s recorded 25 double-doubles, including eight in the last 10 games, a stretch in which he’s averaged 26.2 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, plus shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 78.6 percent from the free-throw line.
“You know,” coach Doc Rivers said, “all he can do, and I’ve said it before, is just keep putting up numbers and let people keep talking about it. If they’re talking about you, you’re either not doing your job or your doing your job very well. I think he’s doing his job very well.”
Griffin is shooting 51.9 percent from the floor on the season and has made himself into a legitimate free-throw shooter at 70.5 percent (his previous career-high was 66.0 percent last season). He went 11-for-13 from the stripe at Dallas, including three consecutive free throws in crunch time. It’s a huge development for one of the league’s strongest post players who is getting 46 percent of his shot attempts from inside the restricted area and better than 63 percent from the paint (including the restricted area).
Hacking Griffin to prevent the bucket and make him earn it at the line is no longer much of an option.
“It doesn’t matter what time of the game it is, every time I go to the line I feel like I’m going to make them,” Griffin said. “That changes my game for sure because I don’t shy away from getting fouled. I’m looking for the foul, I’m looking for that contact, I’m looking to go up and score. It definitely changes a lot of things.”
Life without CP3 will change a lot of things. The Clippers will lean heavily on their superstar to keep them in the thick of the homecourt chase.
“Everybody’s got to step up,” Griffin said, “and I’ve got to be the first.”