Blake Griffin Must Embrace True Nature for Him, Clippers to Reach Full Potential

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Blake Griffin Must Embrace True Nature for Him, Clippers to Reach Full Potential
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Blake Griffin is right. Too many people harp way too much on his negatives, especially when he has cleared most of those ignorant assumptions more impressively than he ever jumped over that car.

Third on my official NBA MVP ballot this season, Griffin wound up finishing there behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Clearly he's doing OK as is. But with his Los Angeles Clippers rather fortunate to be tied, 2-2, with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals after Chris Paul willed the 101-99 Game 4 shocker—and because Griffin has proven so adept at self-improvement—it's a good time to point out the biggest way Griffin could help himself and his team gain an edge now.

He needs to own it.

Whoever he is, however he wants to behaveGriffin needs to own it.

Look at the three other megastars in this series, and you pretty much know what they're thinking and what they're all about.

Durant wouldn't hurt a fly, but he feels compelled to be at his best and prides himself on it. Westbrook doesn't give a crap about niceties and embraces however hot-headed he gets.

Paul will do anything out of wanting to win so badly—and that inner dog inspires those on his team and intimidates those on the opposition.

Griffin? Why does he do some of the things he does? And what is he thinking when he does them—or when so many things are done to him?

Griffin's basic philosophy is that he wants to stick to basketball, which is why he so often acts like he's above the fray with too-cool-for-school stoicism. Occasionally you'll get a scoffing smile at others' tricks against him, as if Griffin is so good he doesn't need to go there.

The thing is, he does go there.

He pulls Steven Adams down on top of him and then freaks out as if hot lava has just been poured over his body. He takes a hard foul from Kendrick Perkins and instead of nodding and going about his business, he turns immediately in a huff and bumps part of his chest into Perkins—yet without daring to look Perkins in the eye. While down on the floor he discreetly kicks up his legs to send Westbrook sprawling and shortly thereafter picks up his fifth foul with 3:40 left in the third quarter with a cheap push on Westbrook that does get whistled.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Yes, Griffin did all of that Sunday.

So we pause here to imagine how much more awesome Griffin could be if he took out the garbage from his game—or made peace with it as a necessary evil.

That incongruity is why it's hard to feel too sorry about Griffin getting hit in the groin or having his lip bloodied Sunday while playing with a bandage on his right elbow from a heavy fall and hard foul the previous game, when his nose gushed blood from yet another play.

The point is that opponents go after Griffin because they don't know who he is or what he's thinking. And given how good he is, it absolutely makes sense to try to get into his head or beat him up.

Maybe you can get him off his game if how hard he tries not to show he cares means he really, really does care.

Those close to him even wonder if he needs to fight—literally fight—someone at least once to show there is a roar where there seems only to be a squawk.

Meanwhile, all the extra garbage that Griffin does with his grabbing and flopping, often against smaller players, makes no sense to his fans or his teammates. Why does he do it? The whole thing is illogical instead of inspirational—especially when compared to Paul's intensity and even illegality working for his team.

It's par for the course that Paul is going to point fingers at referees and howl at them. It's fully accepted because that's consistent with how feisty he is in caring so much and trying anything to win.

Sure enough, with the game on the line Sunday, Paul was grabbing and crowding Durant with all his usual desperation and aggression, and the refs gave Paul the benefit of the doubt.

If Griffin plays a little dirty sometimes because he learned as a kid he had to do it just to keep up with his big brother Taylor, then he should say so.

If he flops because he is convinced that's the only way referees are going to notice all the contact against him, he should start smiling when he gets the calls so we know he's in on the joke.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If he really thinks the ref is nuts for saying he ran his face into Serge Ibaka's elbow, causing the Game 3 nosebleed, don't tell reporters the deadpan joke: "So I got to be careful where I put my face." Be real and tell them, "OK, OK, I admit that sometimes I put my head down and butt it into my defender's body to create space, but c'mon, I'm not that good at aiming my nose at his hand!"

There's a next level for Griffin to reach in tightening his focus, writing the mission statement for what he's all about, reconciling his obviously great performances with the driving forces behind them. For now, Griffin can still lean on Paul as the team leader, but eventually Griffin will have to be locked in, unapologetically, and not deviate from how he wants to be for others to follow him.

If he wants to be a victim, keep whining and flopping. If he wants to be a tough guy, start barking orders at Paul's 4-year-old son in the postgame Clippers locker room even louder and harsher than Paul does.

But if Griffin wants to be all business, and that seems to be his preference, then that's totally cool—as long as he cuts out the chippy stuff. No more artifice. Play tough but clean. Be unflappable when lesser players try to drag you down and unwavering in your commitment to excellence.

Be Tim Duncan, and your game will bloom brighter and last longer as you feel secure in the respect of your peers.

This isn't about changing character; it's about owning it.

Griffin has improved so, so much over his four NBA seasonsfrom post moves to face-up moves, in ball-handling and passing and with a jump shot that has seen a critical upgrade and a level of defense overlooked by many. Plus, he's improved that old standby for regular folk to condemn bigger guys: free-throw shooting.

Griffin made nine of 11 free-throw attempts Sunday and actually is shooting them better than Paul (74.7 percent to 74.4) this postseason—with nearly twice the attempts. DeAndre Jordan, once considered Griffin's peer as a bricklayer, shot 1-of-7 on free throws Sunday and is at 43.2 percent in the playoffs.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Griffin, 25, wants very badly to get better at things, and he works harder with far more attention to detail than people realize. He has shifted gears since early in his career to work smarter instead of just harder all the time. Unlike many top players, the guy actually learns.

And Griffin showed again Sunday how coachable he is by responding to Doc Rivers' message to play as if he had one foul instead of five fouls late—and scoring 10 points in less than nine minutes in the Clippers' historic fourth-quarter comeback.

So it is with Griffin's praiseworthy penchant for self-improvement in mind that we wonder how quickly he can improve even this weighty issue of how he is.

Seems epic, but it's really quite simple.

It was in the very same Staples Center interview room where Griffin sat again Sunday that Jason Collins sat earlier this season after becoming the NBA's first openly gay player and offered this advice to others: "Live your authentic life."

That's what it boils down to. As fantastic as it is to watch Griffin play basketball now, it'll be even better when he does it comfortably in his own skin.

 

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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