LOS ANGELES-Probably the best thing going for the Los Angeles Clippers during the playoffs is the fact that they will have a healthy Blake Griffin. The Portland Trailblazers confirmed this after taking a 115-95 defeat to the chin in the first game of the best-of-seven NBA first round playoff series at Staples Center.
Griffin was too strong, too big and too powerful to handle for the much smaller and lithe Trailblazers.
“We switched on him,” said Portland guard Damian Lillard. “We had guards on him sometimes. We had Chief on him to start the game on him, and he just kind of bulldozed his way to the rim and it’s tough with a guy that’s athletic and strong like him.
“If you get too physical then it’s a foul because he’s spinning in there and jumping in the middle with the spin. It’s tough to defend. So when he’s playing a physical game and if you get too physical you know he’s at the free-throw line or getting an and one, it’s tough to defend. But I thought our guys did a great job competing.”
After playing in only 35 regular season games, everyone knows that Griffin is pretty much still rounding into shape right now. But as he showed against the Trailblazers Sunday night, the more games the Clippers play as they trek their way through the postseason, the better Griffin is going to get.
In his most extensive action since coming back into the fold, Griffin was impressive. And from the looks of it, Portland wanted no part of him. The Trailblazers, like most teams in the NBA, have no answer for Griffin. Griffin’s stat line may read a somewhat comfortable 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, but they don’t really tell the whole story of the way he left his imprint on the game.
Griffin looked like a young colt coming out of the barn with those fresh legs as he powered through one Portland defender after another for a dunk or layup as he established his power game with very little resistance. The Trailblazers should expect more of the same from Griffin the rest of the series.
Griffin’s teammates are expecting it. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who had a monster game himself with 18 points and 12 rebounds, raved about Griffin’s production.
“I thought he was great,” Jordan said. “He scored the ball when he needed to score. He rebounded well, defended well, he got guys open looks. He’s such a big key and a big part of our offense and our defense, so if he plays like that, we’re a great team.”
That means more power moves to the basket, more above-the-rim play and a lot more dominance from the 6-foot-11, 251-pound power forward. Clippers coach Doc Rivers was also impressed over Griffin’s play.
“He was great. Assertive. I loved his energy. Yeah, I mean, like I said before the game, I’ve been surprised with him,” Rivers said. “His energy, his endurance. Today, I thought was the first day that he had great timing as well, so that was good for us.”
The last couple of years as the Clippers found themselves knocked out of the postseason in the second round-one year after another, one of the main topics of discussion around the team’s inability to advance, has been about whether or not Griffin wore down with tired legs.
That won’t be the case this year. Griffin has his legs. He’s healthy. He’s ready to go. The only thing that can hinder Griffin’s play is shaking off the rust of not playing for a huge amount of time during the regular season. He didn’t look rusty in the first quarter when Griffin scored 10 of his 19 points. Eight of his 12 rebounds came in the first half.
“I felt good,” Griffin said. “I felt really good. Our offense was really clicking. I thought we were doing the things that we wanted to do and that helps when you’re getting easy shots. I got some right at the basket early, so that helps. But pretty close, pretty close to how I want to feel.”