With Blake Griffin, Clippers are happy to play follow the leader

first_img“Because from a distance all you see are the dunks and the commercials and you’re like, ‘OK, obviously he’s doing a lot of things off the court,” Crawford said.The question being, was Griffin as committed to his on-court craft as he seemingly was building his off-court profile?Crawford soon had his answer, courtesy of a long Griffin work day that stretched across a 26-point performance against he Detroit Pistons, a long flight from Motown to Charlotte and an evening visit to the hotel weight room.Upon arriving in North Carolina, Crawford headed to the gym to get a quick abdominal workout in. Assuming he’d likely be the only Clipper there, he was shocked by the scene awaiting him.“Blake is already in there, like in a full workout,” Crawford said. “He’s got bands around him, he’s got a trainer with him, and I’m like, ‘this is unbelievable,’ I had to really go back and think, ‘Did we really just play today?’ Like, it was unbelievable.” From afar, the perception Jamal Crawford had of Blake Griffin was as mistaken as anyone else who writes Griffin off as nothing more than a highlight dunker with a couple of cleverly conceived commercials.Crawford now realizes his misguided assumptions, swayed by the two years he’s played alongside Griffin and privy to the inner-workings of a driven star whose ceiling keeps soaring higher and higher and higher.The latest display was Griffin’s 35-point hammering of the Warriors in Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs.Crawford took it in stride, but before the benefit of perspective, it was a curious Crawford who approached his new teammate upon signing with the Clippers in 2012. Crawford has been a believer ever since.“This guy just wants to be great,” Crawford said. “He really does.”The rest of basketball is beginning to understand just how much.Griffin launched himself into consideration for the Most Valuable Player award with a well-rounded regular season in which he averaged 24.1 points and 9.5 rebounds, then backed it up Monday by dominating the Warriors to draw even with them in this best-of-seven series.But the numbers only tell part of the story.By expanding his repertoire with a more consistent mid-range game and freeing his mind of the clutter resulting from the beating he takes every night and the referees’ inconsistency controlling it, Griffin is better equipped to deal with the physical and emotional challenges confronting him each game.It helped that he finally spent a healthy off season working on his game as opposed to rehabbing from surgery, as he did his previous three summers. But for Griffin the mental improvements are every bit as important as the physical.“We talk about it all he time,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “You have no opponent. We throw you the ball, you score. I don’t care who’s guarding you, just go play. I don’t care what they do to you, just go play.”And as the Clippers Game 2 blowout victory showed, when Griffin is playing freely and confidently he’s nothing short of a beast.The Warriors have little recourse.Consider that his 35 points Monday came in just three quarters, and that when Griffin is on the court the Clippers own a 31-point advantage over Golden State.That’s of utmost significance considering he was hampered by foul trouble throughout Game 1 – eventually fouling out after playing just 19 minutes – and the Warriors stole a win at Staples Center as a result.With fouls never an issue Monday – remarkably, after being whistled for six in Game 1 he didn’t draw any in Game 2 – the Warriors were helpless defending Griffin and the Clippers as a whole.“You saw tonight how dominant he is,” said Clippers guard Chris Paul, who implored Griffin to be more cognizant of his importance after fouling out of Game 1, emphatically telling him he needed him on the court the rest of the series.Paul was but one voice in a chorus of Clippers urging Griffin to play smarter with his fouls, but also be more aggressive offensively. They understand his importance, and reminded Griffin it was his commanding regular-season performance, as much as anything else, that lifted them to a franchise record for victories and the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs.The catalyst being a stretch of time in which Paul was sidelined with an injury and Griffin was forced to assume more responsibility. He responded by lifting the Clippers on his shoulders and carrying them during Paul’s absence, the ramifications of which reached far beyond the standings.Griffin was earning the respect of his teammates.“He led with his voice, led by example and led us every single night when Chris was out,” Crawford said.Griffin didn’t necessarily nudge Paul aside for ownership of the Clippers in the process, but he absolutely became a co-signer on the deed.“Now they can work together. We have two MVP candidates on the same team,” Crawford said. “They’re both unselfish and that makes it that much better.”The esteem with which Griffin is held in his locker room was felt between Games 1 and 2 when teammates urged him to punish the Warriors.It was an forceful plea, and it was appreciated.“It means a lot,” Griffin said. “Whether you believe it or not, you know, every NBA player deals with confidence issues at times and before every game. To hear CP, Jamal Crawford, DJ DeAndre Jordan, Matt (Barnes) DC (Darren Collison), on down the line and then our whole coaching staff say, ‘Go attack, go score, go do what you do,’ that’s a confidence-builder. That gets me into the game.”Griffin responded with a career playoff high in points, and in the process helped batter the Warriors into submission.If he continues the assault, it’s difficult to imagine the Warriors mapping out directions leading to three more wins.“When we play that way, when we play with that force and thrust, it’s tough to defend us,” Paul said. center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img

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