LA Clippers Learning to Fight Back, but Must Pick and Win Their Battles

Jeff NisiusContributor IIDecember 30, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Head Coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers comes out on the court to get Blake Griffin #32 who was ejected for his second flagrant foul against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at ORACLE Arena on December 25, 2013 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers may be one of the media’s darlings, but that has not stopped teams and players from challenging them and their players, especially Blake Griffin.

Although they have only won a single playoff series in the last seven years, heightened expectations have resulted in a target on their proverbial backs. The Clippers need to fight off those challenging them and pick their battles wisely, as there are more important goals to focus on.

There are statements that need to be made and those that can simply be decided by pointing to the scoreboard. The most obvious example this season came on Christmas night in Oakland.


The Incident

The Golden State Warriors were in a battle with the Clippers. A nationally televised game to close out the NBA’s Christmas Day marathon, the Clippers and Warriors game was a must-watch even before tempers flared as the third-quarter buzzer sounded.

The Warriors' Draymond Green was assessed a flagrant foul 2 after elbowing Griffin in the neck as time ran out. Green would be ejected and Griffin was issued a technical foul for his actions after the elbow.

Tempers flared again just 78 seconds into the fourth quarter, as Griffin and Andrew Bogut became entangled in the paint while fighting for a rebound at the Clippers’ end of the floor. Griffin attempted to charge into the paint for an offensive rebound but Bogut tied him up, face-to-face, and connected with an elbow to Griffin’s face.

Griffin and Bogut had to be separated from each other, and the incident did not escalate any further. Due to their actions in the event, Bogut was issued a flagrant foul 1 and Griffin was charged with his second technical foul, resulting in his disqualification.

According to Arash Markazi, Griffin was frustrated and accused the Warriors of playing “cowardly basketball.”

[Bogut] got a flagrant 1, and I got thrown out. He was grabbing on to me, and they called the foul and he grabbed the neck of my jersey, so I tried to back up knowing I only had one technical, but they did a good job. They sold it. They fell for it. ... I feel tonight I got two technicals for nothing.

Apparently, Griffin was right. The next day Rod Thorn, the NBA’s president of basketball operations, presented his findings after reviewing Griffin’s ejection.

After a league review of the Clippers-Warriors game, we have come to the conclusion that Blake Griffin should not have been ejected from the game. A common foul should have been called on Griffin for initially attempting to dislodge the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut and a technical foul should have been assessed to Bogut for grabbing Griffin by the shirt and wrestling with him.

This certainly is not the first time that Griffin has been in confrontations with opposing Western Conference foes. Earlier this year he had clashes with the Memphis GrizzliesZach Randolph and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka.

The problem is that these are becoming more commonplace and are negatively impacting the Clippers as a whole. Once Griffin was ejected in the Golden State game, the Warriors outscored the Clippers by five in the quarter and won by two points.


What Needs to Happen?

Regardless of how teams, players and fans view the Los Angeles Clippers, winning cures all. A case can be made that due to the Clippersspecifically Griffin and Chris Paulbeing featured in what seems like every other commercial during games, they have not earned their praise and marketing power. After all, the team won its first Pacific Division title last season and has won two playoff series since moving to Los Angeles.

The main problem here revolves around Griffin. Teams are taking shots at Griffin in an attempt to take him out of his game. They want to initiate contact with Griffin in the paint, in transition and in the air. These teams are trying to mentally break down Griffin in an attempt to limit his production.

What should Griffin do? Charles Barkley offered his solution on TNT’s Inside the NBA, on Nov. 13.

While many may not agree with Barkley’s opinions all the time, this one seems heartfelt and warranted. Perhaps Griffin should take notice and start hitting first, not in the sense of throwing punches, but by, much like Barkley suggested, creating contact and making guys think twice about trying to be overly physical.

That may not change fans’ perception of the Clippers, let alone rival teams, but it certainly would set the tone once the ball is tipped. To Griffin’s credit he has tried to stay out of confrontations this season, but that does not mean his teammates are going to do the same.

Matt Barnes stuck up for Blake Griffin during the game against the Thunder on Nov. 13, in which Barnes shoved Ibaka after the forward and Griffin were tangled up following Griffin’s shot attempt. Barnes was ejected for his actions and immediately tweeted from the locker room, which led to Barkley’s comments that night on Inside the NBA.

The Clippers need to win to justify their place near the top of the NBA’s marketing machine. Furthermore, Griffin needs to get used to players trying to get in his head. It worked in the past and is still working to this day. Instead, Griffin needs to begin to punish opposing defenders, legally, during games to show he is no longer going to take a beating without serving one up in return.

Furthermore, the entire team needs to learn when to fight back and when to walk away. Paul trying to swat the ball out of Bogut’s hands, once the fourth-quarter clock ran out on Christmas night, is not doing them any favors. The same goes for Barnes mixing it up and getting ejected for a somewhat harmless scrap that did not involve him.

The Clippers' biggest enemy is themselves, because they need wins, not ejections. They can play physical and fight back, but allowing their frustration and aggression to cost them games only increases the likelihood teams will persistently attempt to irritate them.