SACRAMENTO – A Saturday night, two bad teams playing, and it’s impossible to leave the TV or click away from Clippers-Knicks.
That is the real Blake Griffin early season imprint, not the 44 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in the loss to New York at Staples Center or the blasting dunks on Timofey Mozgov and Danilo Gallinari or the one-handed throw-down put-back or even the 18.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 49.8-percent shooting on the season. The Clippers are 1-13 and have turned what should have been a favorable schedule into a nine-game losing streak and the worst record in the league, but Griffin makes them must-watch TV.
This is not a complete surprise – it was obvious on opening night that the rookie power forward was the kind of dynamic presence the beleaguered franchise needed for that very imagery as much as talent. This is his debut, though, immediately after missing an entire season with a serious knee injury, with Chris Kaman, the center who could have commanded some focus from opponents, out with an ankle injury. Griffin has done all this without much acclimation and without many veterans around him in a starting lineup forced by health issues to go ridiculously young.
Ralph Lawler, in his 32nd season as play-by-play man, said on the TV post-game show that Saturday was one of the two best performances in Los Angeles Clippers history, either Griffin against the Knicks or one of two 30-point, 20-rebound showing by Elton Brand. Reaching back to the San Diego years, Lawler pulled out names like World B. Free and Freeman Williams. It doesn’t matter that it’s the Clippers. Any franchise that has been around that long, without even getting into the Buffalo Braves days, and someone pushes his way into contention for greatest individual game, that’s a big deal.
Maybe Lawler, as unofficial historian as well as accomplished broadcaster, would think of other nominees on the drive home. Maybe he would have the chance to step back in the ensuing hours, away from the rush of the moment, and decide that Griffin was outstanding, but that there were better highlight reels with a higher degree of difficulty in the playoffs, not November against the Knicks.
Not only was the Griffin of Saturday still historically great, but among the entire Clippers timeline that started in San Diego in 1978-79. It wasn’t just a Los Angeles thing.
Lawler’s e-mail reply:
Games that come to mind –
1. Freeman Williams got his first NBA start in a game for the San Diego Clippers when World B. Free sat out a game with a phantom back injury. Jan. 19, 1980 @ Phoenix. He scored 51! Free’s back got better quickly.
2. World B. Free scored 49 for the S.D. Clippers Feb 2, 1979 a day after learning he’d been snubbed for the All-Star game. After his final goal he pranced around the court sharing high 5’s with the fans in the front row seats. It was memorable.
3. Forward Charles Smith set a franchise record of 52 points in a game against the Nuggets for the L.A. Clippers in Denver 12/1/90. I had to tell the bench when he hit 50 that he was one away from the Franchise single game record – they let him stay in to get the record-setting hoop.
All that said – I think Griffin’s performance ranks above them all. He’s a 21-year-old Rookie who was playing his 14th NBA game. The WOW Factor on his night was off the charts and he was going against a 28 year old, 5-time all-star in Amar’e Stoudemire. The points added to the rebounds, assists, steals and a blocked shot make this the Best game ever played by a Clipper player. imho
Amazing endorsement. Amazing night.