In keeping consistent with his dominance on the court, Blake Griffin will need a strong playoff performance to exorcise his playoff demons.
Enjoying a career season, Griffin has catapulted himself into the league’s elite. With season averages of 24.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists, the case can be made that Griffin is the game’s third-best player behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Despite his career year, Griffin postseason numbers are anything but impressive.
In 17 playoff games, BG is averaging just 17.0 points, 6.4 boards and 2.5 dimes. His 48.7 percent field goal average is as dismal as his 68.5 percent clip from the charity stripe.
Finally, it looks like the Los Angeles Clippers are going to avoid Memphis this postseason, a looming first-round matchup with the division rival Golden State Warriors does not offer much solace for Clipper Nation.
Alongside the superstar play of Chris Paul, the improved play of DeAndre Jordan and the tutelage of coach Doc Rivers, Griffin will play a key role in how far the Clippers get this postseason.
So what does Griffin have to do to finally exorcise those demons? What type of postseason performance will indicate to the league that he has made the jump from human highlight reel to championship competitor?
Let’s look at three ways that Griffin can achieve this spring.
Comfortably Convert from the Free-Throw Line
Griffin has improved significantly at the line this season, knocking down a career-best 71 percent of his free throws this season.
Given BG’s improvement, it is easy to remember that he was often a liability from the charity stripe. In his first postseason in 2011-12, Griffin had some egregious games from the line.
In an 87-86 Game 3 victory over the Grizzlies, Griffin made just three of his nine attempts. A game later, Griffin converted just 10-of-17 free throws in a 101-97 overtime victory.
Surely, the Clippers would have appreciated the cushion afforded by better numbers from the line.
Fighting off nagging injuries, and with diminished confidence from the line, Griffin took just 15 total free throws in the Clippers’ second-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
After working all summer with noted shooting guru Bob Thate, Griffin improved from the line substantially in last year’s rematch against the Grizzlies. Other than a mediocre three for five performance in a Game 3 loss, BG never shot lower than 75 percent from the line in that series.
Although he converted a high level of his attempts, Griffin’s injuries prevented him from having the necessary physical impact on the series. Like his poor showing against the Spurs a season earlier, Griffin took just 26 total free throws in the Clippers’ six-game collapse against the Grizzlies.
Playoff basketball has a habit of slowing down and getting more physical. Griffin needs to embrace his opportunities at the free-throw line, and convert at a level consistent or better than his season average.
Despite the Grizzlies’ anemic offense, the Clippers’ back line turned a mediocre Grizz squad into offensive giants.
At the forefront of Memphis’ dominance were Randolph and Gasol, who averaged a combined 38.1 points and 15.5 rebounds against Lob City’s porous defense.
While Griffin shared accountability with Jordan on the back line, Griffin’s capacity as a defensive stopper was just not there.
A year earlier the Clippers were able to thwart Memphis’ bulk in part due to their toughness of the bench. For all the highlights generated by Griffin and Jordan, backup bigs Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans were the unsung enforcers of that first round series.
ESPN’s new Real Plus-Minus statistic values Griffin as the third-most valuable power forward by wins above replacement (WAR). His 11.02 WAR is just behind stat-stuffer Kevin Love and future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki.
However, Griffin’s overall real plus-minus falls short of expectations. Griffin’s defensive real plus-minus of plus-1.75 ranks him 23rd of eligible power forward. His offensive real plus-minus of plus-2.22 buoys his overall real-plus minus to plus-3.97, good for tenth-best on the power-forward list.
Advanced statistics do not tell the whole tale. The eye test clearly indicates that Griffin will not be making anybody’s All-NBA First Team Defense this season.
Although Griffin belongs to some of the stingiest five-man Clipper units, he will need to translate his success against teams that produce offensive fireworks.
At it looks now, the Clippers will face the Warriors in the first round, giving Griffin the assignment of matching up with either David Lee or Andrew Bogut. Should they make the second round, Griffin will likely match up against the likes of Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant.
Playing against two of the best frontcourts in the NBA will require ultimate patience and maturity in team and individual defense. While DJ will be anchoring Lob City’s playoff defense, Clipper Nation could use some enlightened play from BG on the other side of the ball come playoff time.
Should the Clippers matchup with their Bay Area rivals this postseason, Griffin will need to play with controlled aggression.
The veteran savvy of Lee and Bogut have had a way of obstructing Griffin’s impact on the court. Scuffles have become commonplace between the Dubs and Lob City over the last couple of years.
In a marquee Christmas matchup, Golden State was able to adversely affect Griffin’s game, baiting him into a fourth-quarter ejection. Although the NBA later admitted that the referees had made a mistake, and Griffin should not have been called for his second technical, it was clear that the Dubs had gotten into Griffin’s head.
Referring to his second technical foul, Griffin told reporters after the game (h/t Arash Markazi of ESPN.com):
"If you look at it, I didn't do anything, and I got thrown out of the game," Griffin said. "It all boils down to they (the referees) fell for it. To me, that's cowardly. That's cowardly basketball."
Griffin takes a beating incomparable to any other basketball player on the planet. Fans will remember the numerous battles that Griffin and Randolph got into on the low block in last year’s first-round series.
This postseason, the Clippers need Griffin to demonstrate his maturity and avoid getting caught up in his opponents' frustrating tactics.
Griffin needs to keep his cool, and let his game speak. While guys like Karl Malone might encourage Griffin to retaliate, even just once—to get guys like Bogut and Lee to turn down some of their play—Griffin needs to keep his eyes on the prize: an NBA championship.
The Clippers become all too vulnerable when Griffin’s game is affected. It is no surprise that the Clips blew a second-half lead in a tight loss to the Warriors on Christmas, after Griffin was sent to the showers.
Playing with a compelled physical dominance, devoid of the emotion that might inhibit his impact, will be key for the young forward in exorcising those nagging playoff demons.
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