Blake Griffin Rising to Elite Status Faster Than LA Clippers Can Keep Up

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Blake Griffin Rising to Elite Status Faster Than LA Clippers Can Keep Up
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Blake Griffin's been on the fast track to superstardom since he first set foot in the NBA at the start of the 2010-11 season, but his play over the last month or two has further accelerated that already meteoric rise.

Griffin "announced" his arrival among the league's elite with his 38-point performance at the 2014 All-Star Game and kept his roll going with 35 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.

In both cases, Blake's best efforts weren't enough to secure a victory.

In the former case, his Western Conference squad fell eight points shy of their Eastern Conference counterparts. In the latter, his Los Angeles Clippers ceded the game—and, perhaps more importantly, the season series—to the Spurs at the Staples Center, 113-103.

Griffin's performance marked his fifth of 30 points or more in his last six games, though L.A. has gone just 2-3 on those occasions. 

Not that Blake's to blame. He took a respectable 24 shots (14 makes) to get his 35 against San Antonio, and has launched more than that in a game just once in February—when he went for a season-high 43 in a four-point loss to the Miami Heat.

The problem, it seems, isn't that Griffin's shooting and scoring as much as he is, but that the Clips need for him to shoulder such a massive burden.

Chris Paul's only just returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for five weeks, and he looked plenty rusty against San Antonio.

He missed nine of his 10 attempts from the field and got torched on defense—not by Tony Parker, whom Gregg Popovich announced before the game would be out "for the foreseeable future," per The Associated Press, via USA Today—but by Patty Mills, who scored a team-high 25 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists off the bench for the Spurs.

Chances are, Paul's poor performance wasn't just the result of his recovering shoulder. He had anything but a break during All-Star weekend, shuttling from event to event to event to event in his triumphant (and exhausting) return to New Orleans, where he spent his first six NBA seasons.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Clips certainly could've used some classic CP3 magic down the stretch.

They fell into a 12-point hole early in the fourth quarter by way of an 11-5 Spurs run, all 11 of which were Mills' handy work.

Darren Collison—who started in Paul's place while he was out and played alongside his All-Star teammate at times against San Antonio—led L.A. in fourth-quarter shot attempts (five), but made only one of them.

That mirrored Jared Dudley's 1-of-5 showing from beyond the arc. Dudley's misfires were all the more glaring in the absence of J.J. Redick, who missed his fifth straight game with a bruised right hip that's expected to sideline him for several more weeks.

On the whole, the Clips shot just 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) from three opposite the Spurs, with Jamal Crawford (3-of-9 from downtown) accounting for the plurality of their attempts.

Between Redick's injury issues and Dudley's disappointing debut season in L.A., it should come as no shock that the Clips rank among the bottom five in the NBA in three-point percentage (34.3) even though they've tallied the eighth-most tries (23.4 per game). 

That's not a healthy combination, to say the least, especially when you're trying to assert yourself among the league's elite.

Which, by the looks of it, the Clippers are trying to do. Their latest loss dropped them to 37-19, just a half-game back of the red-hot Houston Rockets for third place in the Western Conference, but three behind second-place San Antonio and a whopping six-and-a-half shy of the best-in-basketball Oklahoma City Thunder.

And, interestingly enough, two games back of where the Clips were at this point last season.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The basic indicators point to a team that's ready for prime time. L.A. ranks second in offensive efficiency, behind only the Heat, and 10th in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com. They also rank among the top 10 in opponent effective field-goal percentage, which takes into account the added value of three-pointers.

But if there's any area in which the Clips are particularly susceptible, aside from beyond the arc, it's on the glass.

The Spurs, who've been one of the league's weakest offensive-rebounding teams all season, collected 12 of their own misses and outscored L.A. in second-chance points, 18-12.

As with the Clips' three-point shooting, this particular deficiency didn't exactly come out of left field, either. L.A.'s the third-worst defensive rebounding team by percentage, "bested" only by the Milwaukee Bucks and the rival Los Angeles Lakers in that regard, per NBA.com. That's largely why the Clips check in among the bottom 10 in second-chance points allowed.

Prolific as Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (18 rebounds vs. San Antonio) may be on the boards, they're the only members of this squad who are in any way reliable in that regard. The Clips have been thin up front all season, with Ryan Hollins (zero rebounds on Tuesday) standing in as their primary backup, and have done little to address that glaring hole.

Unless, of course, anyone counts signing Hedo Turkoglu for the rest of the season as a viable solution.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

To Doc Rivers' credit, he's already on the lookout for a big body, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Perhaps a call to Jason Collins, a Rivers favorite and L.A. native who's been spotted frequently at Clippers games this season, would rectify that situation.

In the meantime, it'll be up to Blake to keep doing what he's been doing for most of the season now.

The Clips won't make the leap from "really good" to "great" until Paul's back in rhythm, Redick's healthy again and (maybe) Doc's brought in more reinforcements in the paint and beyond the arc.

For now, the Clippers will have to lean ever more heavily on Blake's best efforts to keep them in the mix for a taste of home-court advantage in the playoffs. They'll play five of their next seven games on the road, including a trip to Memphis on Friday and a stop in OKC on Sunday.

With any luck, some more 30-10 games from Griffin should keep the Clips afloat. But luck isn't going to carry this team to the top, where it undoubtedly wants and expects to be after a summer spent scribbling through notoriously stingy owner Donald Sterling's checkbook.

Rather, the Clippers will make that all-important jump from "really good" to "great" because Blake Griffin has done the same, but only if the rest of his teammates can keep pace.

 

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