05-16-2015, 10:25 AM
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It’s a Bird, It’s a Pain: The Confounding Powers of Blake Griffin
It wasn’t his fault — not exactly. The Clippers’ fourth-quarter collapse against the Rockets last night was a masterpiece of team failure; desecrations of basketball on that scale can’t happen unless everyone pitches in. Blaming Blake Griffin for the Clippers’ 31-point scoring deficit over the last 14:15 overlooks the vital contributions of his teammates, including Guy Who Fumbles the Ball Every Time He Touches It and Guy Who Stands in the Corner Literally Shrieking “Jesus, No, Don’t Pass to Me!”
Still, Griffin’s fourth-quarter gallery of scared passes from right under the basket and on-tilt layup attempts says a lot about what makes him such a hard player to figure out, even now, deep into his fifth season in the league. He has played the best basketball of his career in this year’s playoffs — 25 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists per game, and those numbers don’t begin to cover the havoc he’s unleashed on opposing defenses. Through three quarters last night, he was the best player on the floor. He shot 75 percent in a 22-point first half. He whirled around Trevor Ariza and crushed a dunk through Jason Terry. He hit a 3. At one point late in the third quarter, he banked in a ludicrous shot while twirling through the air, flipping the ball up over his head with his back to the basket. Then, nothing. The spinning circus shot was his last basket of the game.
Everyone’s a superhero these days, but when he’s at his best, Griffin is the NBA player who most easily could have been drawn and inked from the imagination of some Silver Age pulp genius. Do you know what I mean? He’s got that overblown, exaggerated look — the big wedge of a head, the bowling-ball shoulders. And since no one so huge and dense–looking should be able to move as fast as he does, he gives the impression of somehow both flattening and periodizing space: You watch him cut to the basket in a series of strobe flashes, panels that with only a tiny shift in perspective might call for a white-boxed voice-over and sound effects in huge red letters.
Nights like these are always lonely. [Blake hunched and twisted at the waist, holding the ball out to one side, the glittering eyes of the crowd vanishing into darkness.]
The court belongs to me and me alone. [Blake putting the ball on the floor, driving his shoulder into a defender who falls back with panic contorting his face.]
The other players simply fade away. [Blake spinning around the gaping defender, his eyes savage, the space around him bleeding into red mist.]
My only companion is THE BEAST. [Blake airborne and snarling, the ball cocked back behind his head, lines of power radiating from his form.]
And the Beast NEEDS FOOD. [Blake dunking the basketball, lit from below in an eerie bloom of flashbulbs, a fiery KA-THROOOOM!!! arcing out from his giant hand.]
Griffin is one of those players whose natural athletic charisma is so obvious that when he’s playing well, you wonder how he could ever play badly. He just seems like someone who should dominate. (In this sense he’s the opposite of, say, Steph Curry, who looks frail and slow until the moment he starts raining lightning.) When you see him flying with the ball into a crowd of scrambling defenders, hitching his hips to the right, turning left, making one guy go running out to find J.J. Redick on the perimeter and another guy come running in to guard the rim and another guy fall flat on his back from sheer dismay … well, it’s hard to see how anyone could stop him, ever. Maybe the Silver Surfer. Maybe Draymond Green, on a good day.
MPT: We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.