By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The first quarter of the first game of the first round of the postseason, and Blake Griffin was sitting. Two fouls in all of 3 minutes, 14 seconds forced him to the bench, halting an encouraging start for the Clippers and their All-Star power forward.
Three minutes. That’s how long it took for both — the player and the team — to have a problem. Three minutes, which led to just 39 seconds at the start of the second period until another personal and another quick hook, which led to 11 minutes in the third quarter, which led to Griffin ultimately fouling out with 48.3 seconds remaining after squeezing 19 minutes out of Game 1 against the Warriors on Saturday.
Maybe it was part of the Clippers being too amped to begin a playoffs of great expectation, as some players suggested when they gathered at team headquarters on Sunday for practice. Maybe, coach Doc Rivers proposed, it was the media’s fault for underlining the tension between the teams during the regular season, prompting referees to keep an extra-tight hand on the game, as if the veteran crew wouldn’t have known without an Internet connection or cable TV.
It’s an issue by any explanation because Griffin needs a strong response to help the Clippers avoid an 0-2 deficit on Monday night at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series shifts to Oakland. That would be pressure enough. In this case, though, he needs a strong response while aware that he just fouled out of a game that wasn’t all that physical and that the three new referees could take the same approach to maintain control after four emotional regular-season meetings.
“You can kind of see the pattern of the game,” Griffin said at the practice facility. “The first couple fouls, you can kind of see how refs are calling the game. It was a little shaky at some points yesterday.
“I didn’t really anticipate the game to be called like that, both ways. It wasn’t just our team. It wasn’t like were just out there just getting hosed. It was tight both ways. Obviously they had guys in foul trouble, we had guys in foul trouble. The thing is, it changes from game to game. Obviously a different set of officials, so the next game could be extremely physical and not many fouls called. I think I just need to do a better job of reading that situation early on.”
It’s an additional issue for Griffin in the wake of finishing tied for sixth in the league for most personals, with teammate DeAndre Jordan seventh. More encouraging for the Clippers, Blake Superior managed the problem well enough to average 35.8 minutes per game.
Obviously, he needs to adjust to referees calling games tighter in the playoffs.
Or, obviously he doesn’t.
“No,” Rivers insisted. “Blake needs to play even more intense and even more aggressive, not go the other way. I actually thought two of his fouls came from not trying to foul. You could see him. He was trying to stay out of the way when on both of those he should have rotated earlier like he was supposed to, but he was so concerned about fouls. And he said that it affected him. But that’s human. Guys who have been around the league a long time, you know when you get those two early ones, historically the game goes bad for you. I was amazed how well Blake actually played in those 19 minutes, because usually that doesn’t happen. Usually when you have those fouls, your rhythm is messed up, you’re scared to play on both ends. I was happy that at least on the one end he was still aggressive.”
Officiating increased as a talking point of the series when the league announced Sunday that referees missed a foul that should have sent Chris Paul to the line with 18.9 seconds remaining and the Clippers down two. Instead of L.A. having the chance to tie, the Warriors got the ball and won 109-105.
“It doesn’t make me feel any better or anything like that,” Rivers said. “But I do thinks it’s a good thing to do. I think they take ownership. That was a big call. Chris Paul goes to the line now with two free throws to tie the game. Having said that, there’s nothing we can do about it. A mistake happened on their end. But we made our own mistakes and so we have to take ownership of that. We can’t worry about any of that stuff. To me, that’s more clutter and we can’t worry about it.”