LOS ANGELES — Before we allow Blake Griffin to move on from this forgettable season, he should be given a tremendous amount of credit.
That’s right. Griffin might have a thing or two he wishes he did differently in this ill-fated 2015-16 campaign, but he was there for his Los Angeles Clippers team in epic ways that need to be told.
Griffin knew, according to league sources, there was a strong possibility he would re-tear his left quadriceps tendon by playing in the playoffs.
He played anyway.
Griffin could’ve and maybe should’ve undergone the procedure to fix the tendon immediately after suffering the injury on Christmas, according to league sources, but it would’ve ended his Clippers season because of a four- to six-month recovery.
So he tried to strengthen the other areas of his leg, gut it out and heal somewhat to be there, even at a substandard level, for his team’s playoff run.
That’s how much he wanted to capitalize on the opportunity the Clippers had with DeAndre Jordan re-signed to play with both him and Chris Paul, both of whom can opt out of their contracts to become free agents after next season.
Griffin’s decision in December also meant he was knowingly surrendering his chance of playing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, because he was told he would need a significant bone-marrow-injection procedure eventually. If he did it in December and used the NBA season to recover, he could've been back for a summer with USA Basketball.
That deep commitment to the Clippers offers an interesting context for Griffin’s heavily scrutinized punch of assistant equipment manager Matias Testi at a restaurant in late January. The punch that broke Griffin’s right hand and turned him into a pariah for indulging in an off-court moment so foolishly.
It’s only fair to understand that when Griffin did that and hurt the team, he was in the midst of putting off the quad procedure in sincere hopes of helping the team.
He had a team-high 17 points Monday night in Portland before he planted for a leap and felt a give. Paul had left the game shortly prior after breaking a bone in his right hand. Griffin stayed in after the leg gave out, moving gingerly for a while before finally leaving with less than six minutes left of what was a 98-84 Clippers’ loss.
The depleted Clippers also lost Game 5 at home Wednesday night to the Trail Blazers, 108-98, moving to the brink of elimination. Paul was on the bench at Staples Center, even doing his customary waves of disdain at referees with his one good hand, while Griffin was not.
One could jump to further conclusions about Griffin being a bad teammate or not there for the guys, but again, all is not as it might seem. Griffin was at the game; he just didn’t appear on the bench. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said both Paul and Griffin had texted every teammate with encouraging words prior to the game and offered more vocal support in person at halftime in the locker room…despite both having texted Rivers with their true sorrowful notes.
Griffin had gone ahead with the non-surgical regenerative procedure for his tendon Wednesday morning. The MRI Tuesday morning confirmed the situation—the team press release merely stated “aggravating the injury to his left quad tendon” and that he was out for the playoffs.
Time had passed for postponing it. There was no hope left.
All the hard work Griffin put in trying to strengthen his leg, initially ineffective but eventually successful to the point where he began believing he could make it through a long playoff run, wound up wasted.
He had come a long way since his first game back three weeks ago, when he was so wary of leaping, he actually thought to himself for the first time ever as an alley-oop pass went up: “Please don’t throw it too high.”
Because he was protecting the quad tendon, Griffin rarely could practice his jump shot to get a feel for how comfortable he was with his healed hand. There was no chance he would be the all-around powerhouse who finished third in the 2014 NBA MVP voting, rose up as the Clippers beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2015 playoffs and averaged 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists during the first 30 games of this season.
Were his stubborn efforts trying to salvage 2016 pointless? Not if you ask Rivers.
“I actually thought Blake was about a second away from regaining timing,” Rivers said about Game 4.
Rivers said even he mentioned it mid-game after watching Griffin on the court: “‘Man, you can see him. He’s close; he’s close. He is about to get it going.’ And then, ‘Bam.’”
The idea that a fragile Griffin just trying to survive could’ve carried the Clippers to their first-ever title without Paul is unrealistic.
He would’ve tried, though.
If this were some Hollywood script, that happy ending would’ve played out after the sacrifice Griffin privately made with his leg despite receiving such public condemnation for his hand.
He might be a befuddling character on the court with how fearlessly he plays at times while coming across to opponents as a fake tough guy. And this certainly doesn’t change the fact he punched Testi.
Yet Griffin tried. He tried more than anyone knew.
He had to live with the guilt of the punch and the anxiety that his next explosive move would end his season, as it ultimately did. He wanted to play and wanted to be there for his team.
Griffin will be fully recovered for the next NBA season, but he deserves more than that.
He deserves acknowledgement for his determination to persevere in a season that upon first glance just looks like a big mess.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.