It was very evident that Blake Griffin was winded in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks. He had a double-double in the first half, 19 points and 10 rebounds, but did not have it down the stretch to secure the game.
"I thought we just did a good job of battling him," Hawks head coach Larry Drew said. "We didn't do anything special from a strategic standpoint. When you play a guy like that, you need to be prepared to play a physical game because that's what he's going to bring. He's a load, and it takes a team effort to defend a guy like that."
In the second half, Griffin started settling for jump shots and only made three of his 10 field goal attempts. He did try a few drives to the hoop and Atlanta applied a little more pressure every time he touched the ball, but you have to wonder whether Griffin could have gone for 40 points if he had his wits about him.
You don’t have to be an expert to notice certain trends in the NBA.
The starters practically play all of the first quarter, and then the primary offensive weapon rests at the end or the beginning of the third quarter, leaving the secondary player to carry the load.
Phil Jackson normally rests Kobe Bryant and lets Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol carry the offensive load, or in Miami, Erik Spoelstra plays either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade while the other takes a break. In San Antonio, Tony Parker takes a break while Manu Ginobili runs the show, as this ensures continuity.
With the Clippers leading by double digits, Vinny Del Negro continued to play Griffin deep into the second quarter. Maybe it was the residual effect of losing to the Utah Jazz in the previous game, where the Clippers lost by eight after leading by 14.
In the NBA a 14-point lead in the first half is nothing to feel secure about and maybe Del Negro thought he could win the game in the first half.
"In the second half we didn't stop them at all," Del Negro said. "They scored at will against us and our energy defensively was not good enough."
Maybe that’s because his primary productive players like DeAndre Jordan and Griffin were tired.
It is foolish to think that things will work out in Vinny Del Negro's favour if he continues to play Griffin so much, especially when leading scorer Eric Gordon was off and finished the game with 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting.
The fourth quarter is where most games are won.
This is a point reinforced by Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins in an ESPN article recently. Among other things, he said he used to put on a show, but when the fourth quarter came, he just did not have any energy.
“Lou Hudson [a Hawks star in the 1970s] told me something a long time ago. He just told me to look at the game as getting three buckets a quarter. Just three buckets. If you add those three buckets up a quarter, what do you have, 24 points? That’s not even counting free throws. If you concentrate on getting that, you’re conserving your energy.”
The least points you can gain from scoring three baskets a game is six. Multiply that by four, and you have LeBron James’s or Dwayne Wade’s current average per game.
Obviously teammates have to chip in, even if Griffin is the star attraction for the Clippers right now. On NBA Tonight, the top 10 plays for 2010 had Griffin’s highlight reel as No. 1. He was so spectacular last year that they could not just settle for one highlight; they had to make them all No. 1.
This is why hardly anyone watches the Clippers hoping for a win; they just want to see what the Oklahoma Sooners product will do next. But one can’t help but wonder that if Griffin was sufficiently rested, could he have been enough to win that game?
As he becomes more adjusted to the 82 regular season games, Griffin's fitness will improve, but this is his first season after sitting out the previous season due to injury.
However, it does not help that Griffin is currently playing for a coach who almost got into a fist fight in his previous job for overplaying another young forward coming off an injury.
Yahoo Sports reported that on March 30, 2010, after a loss to the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson confronted Del Negro physically after he overplayed Joakim Noah, who just came back from injury, in a desperate attempt to make the playoffs as an eight seed.
To be fair, Griffin is not playing any more minutes compared to three other past players that averaged 20+ points a game in their first season. Tim Duncan played 39.1 minutes as a rookie while a teenage LeBron James was a close 39.5, and Carmelo Anthony logged just over 36 minutes per game fresh out of Syracuse.
Griffin is currently averaging 37 minutes per game, but played 41 minutes last Sunday.
For every dunk he makes, Griffin will be donating $100 to Dunking For Dollars to help fight childhood obesity. The Nestle foundation will match his donation. DFD could not have chosen a better player to be doing this, as he leads the NBA in dunks.