Blake Griffin, Clippers Appreciate Reunion, but a Difficult Future Lies Ahead

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterApril 4, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 3:  Chris Paul #3, DeAndre Jordan #6 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers stand for the national anthem before the game against the Washington Wizards on April 3, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Pink is the color of the large residual discoloration on the back of Blake Griffin's right hand.

It's a scarring reminder of how misdirected his sixth NBA season has been when everyone expected Griffin's, and his team's, greatest focus ever.

The time has passed for deepening characterizations of Griffin as soft or fake-tough because he broke that hand in a restaurant punching a guy too short to even look him in the neck.

The assistant equipment manager with the busted face—he also needed to be medically cleared to return—made it back to work a month-and-a-half ago.

Griffin finally made it back Sunday.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 3: A scar is seen on the right hand of Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the basketball game against Washington Wizards at Staples Center April 3, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. Griffin rejoined the Clippers a
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Whether the surgery on and controversy over his hand complicated what wound up being an erroneous rather than therapeutic strategy to heal his torn left quadriceps, Griffin's leg still isn't quite right and might need offseason surgery.

He has no good options at this point, and this is an appropriate between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place situation for Griffin's season to wind up in.

He can only do the best with what he has now.

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It's what we all must do with situations in our lives that have gone awry. We wind up looking back on them and almost invariably shaking our heads at how dumb we were to get into that mess or how impossible it was to feel good at that time.

The dark passages become part of our life history.

Rarely do they become part of our life highlights, however.

And it's hard to see how this crucial chapter ends well for Griffin.

Basic NBA math is 5-4=1, meaning the winner of the first-round playoff series between the fifth seed and the fourth seed in a conference…gets the first seed (provided it wins its matchup).

That equates to the worst possible second-round draw in 2016, perhaps the worst of all time in this particular case given the Golden State Warriors' historic dominance.

That's why the argument that things have gone just fine because the Clippers went 30-15 without Griffin is flawed. For a franchise that desperately needs evident progress and has never been past the second roundwith a leader in Chris Paul, who also has never been past the second roundthis ship is doomed to go no further than previous fateful trips.

The Clippers, as the likely fourth seed in the West, should be able to handle the inexperienced Trail Blazers or depleted Grizzlies in the first round. But that'll be that.

Even eternal optimist Doc Rivers acknowledges the difficulty of reintegrating Griffin at this late date. The novel lineup with Griffin as the Clippers' small-ball center, slotted to be of particular use against Golden State, was tried Sunday and featured Griffin in one set mistakenly going to a forward spot instead of a center spot.

He is also used to popping off picks instead of rolling, which is what the Clippers' center needs to do.

Apr 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) is guarded by Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) and center Marcin Gortat (13) in the first quarter of the game at Staples Center.  Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kami
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

"Hopefully, we can get it going during the playoffs," Rivers said before adding that it's hardly an ideal plan.

The Clippers did win Sunday, holding off the disorganized Washington Wizards, and Griffin's usefulness was obvious. The Clippers outscored Washington by 22 points in Griffin's 24-and-a-half minutes on the floor, with openings created all over the place just by his threat on offense.

The Clippers entered the game last in the league with just 35.5 percent of their points coming in the paint—a testament to just how many people during Griffin's hiatus had to relocate to the perimeter of Lob City.

Inside the Clippers' locker room, for as much annoyance as there was about him breaking his hand off the court, there's honest appreciation that Griffin is back.

Part of it is his teammates knowing he's playing hurt now with his quad still flaring up just above the knee. Part of it is that they had become a staggered boxer from the burden of standing without his support.   

DeAndre Jordan complained after the game Sunday about feeling tired before quickly trying to correct himself and adding that no one could've been more tired than Griffin as he regains lost conditioning.

But Jordan and Paul, who rested instead of playing Thursday in Oklahoma City, need the help.

"He's been out for what feels like the entire year," Jordan said of Griffin.

After Griffin was introduced last in the Clippers' starting lineup Sunday, Jordan grabbed him from behind and pinned his arms down before the whole team swarmed in to begin mock-punching him.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 3:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers is introduced before the game against the Washington Wizards on April 3, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The worst of the embarrassment is behind them, for sure.

But the season doesn't just end now with a happily-ever-after snapshot of Griffin back in uniform.

Griffin looking down and always seeing that big pink blotch on his hand, running from his right ring finger nearly to his wrist, is one reminder. The instability in his leg that he felt before the punch and still long after is another.

Griffin admitted to doubts about his legendary hops after a full-court sprint before Paul threw him a lob early Sunday.

"It was the first time thinking, 'Please don't throw it too high,'" Griffin said after the game.

He's not going to be his full force by any measure. That reality should have become clear in how he had to lie on the floor instead of sit on the bench Sunday, wrapping a heating pad over his left quad and knee.

Because of limits on how much work the leg can take, according to team sources, Griffin hasn't had and will not be allowed to get the kind of reps he needs to recapture the refined shooting touch that made his game truly elite.

He is a dedicated worker and deserves a ton of credit for revamping that shot, but it's easy to fall back into old, comfortable and bad habits—especially for someone who has to remind himself to use that mechanical high finish to make a jumper.

That's besides the obvious stuff about teammates' fatigue, their on-court execution with Griffin and his ball-handling being compromised by having a recently healed hand.

Of course, he'll try to be the best version of himself he can from here on out. Griffin said he had "a blast" being out there again Sunday with "my guys."

And he should be a better version of himself in one sense: being humbled and thus appreciating what he has.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 3: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers pumps fists with Chris Paul #3 as he starts the basketball game against The Washington Wizards at Staples Center April 3, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. Griffin rejoined the Clipp
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Yet the goal for these Clippers this season was to put it all together—all of their talent in conjunction with their fullest appreciation for this championship opportunity after so very nearly losing it in Jordan's temporary defection to Dallas.

Instead, the timing is still all off.

This was supposed to be the one season where no one could punch a hole in the team's fabric—Jordan stayed, and the potential free agencies of both Griffin and Paul in 2017 had not yet mucked up the collective mind.

But with Griffin merely being the best he can be—and not the mighty tornado he usually is—there is no basis left for believing that this is the Clippers' special season.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.