LOS ANGELES, CA-A year ago this month, the Los Angeles Clippers dropped the mic on the entire NBA when they dealt Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. Whoa. What? The Clippers got Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, along with some other parts in the deal with the Pistons. So, fast forward a year later. There’s been a lot of questions surrounding who got the better of the deal.
The explosive Griffin provided many highlight reel moments for the Clippers as the NBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009. He was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. He is a 5-time All-Star player. Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan formed a nucleus that would take the Clippers to some of the most productive seasons in team history.
But every good thing must come to an end, and one by one, the triplets dissipated from Clipper Nation. The Clippers have gone with the re-load philosophy the last two seasons to get a younger squad and parted ways with Griffin, the last interchangeable part of a group of players that gave Los Angeles hopes to counter its league counterpart down the hallway.
So, the burning question is are the Clippers better off without Griffin?
It’s hard to move on from such an impactful and productive player that Griffin is, but the Clippers made that decision to move into the future. On the stat sheet, the Clippers seem to be doing okay, currently tied for fifth place in the Western Conference standings. The Clippers are second in the Pacific Division, second only to the Golden State Warriors. The Pistons? Detroit is currently five games below .500 and is third in the Eastern Conference Central Division.
Detroit, with Griffin in their lineup, however, have the capabilities to make some real noise in the Eastern Conference in the second half of the season. On Saturday, Griffin and the Pistons kind of gave a preview of what things can be like when they’re clicking on all cylinders as Detroit posted a 109-104 win at Staples Center. Griffin, of course, was the star of the hour, playing 40 minutes and scoring 44 points against his former team.
It was Griffin’s second-highest output of the season. He scored 50 points against the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this season. For Griffin, the moment of coming back home brought some emotions. He was greeted with a standing ovation by the sellout crowd after the Clippers replayed some of Griffin’s biggest basketball moments with the franchise.
“I can’t say that I was really prepared for it, I looked forward to seeing people I hadn’t seen in forever, who I had become very close with during my time here,” Griffin said after the game. “But most importantly, for us, this is the part of the season where we need wins right now so coming in and focusing and getting that done was the most important thing for us.”
Griffin, who is averaging just over 25 points per game, might be playing his best basketball this season. His scoring numbers are the best it has ever been since he came into the league. The most points that Griffin has ever tallied in a season for the Clippers was when he put up an average of 24 points per game during the 2013-14 NBA campaign.
For his part, it’s not like Harris has been some scrub or something. The small forward has quietly gone about his business on the court to become the Clippers best all-around player, averaging 20 points per game. But against Detroit, Harris was not at his best, producing just 11 points in the defeat. The Clippers had to climb out of an early hole, but just couldn’t get past the inside muscle of Griffin and center Andre Drummond, who came up big with 20 points and 21 rebounds to compliment his teammate’s emotional performance.
“Detroit is [a] big team. They have [Andre] Drummond and Blake [Griffin] so that is a physical team,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. “Not every East Coast team is that physical. I thought we were just as physical. They made shots, I thought that was a brutal non-call at the end of the game. Lou [Williams] was the only one with the ball, I don’t know how everybody can miss that. Those are game changing plays and those can’t be missed.”
Now with that game in the rearview mirror, the Clippers have a whole slate of games and teams to contend with during the month of January, starting with the New Orleans Pelicans. After that, the Clippers have Utah and Golden State at home before embarking on a four-game road trip. They close January with home games against Sacramento, Atlanta, and the Lakers.
Tyrone Wallace, who scored 10 points off the bench for the Clippers, said Los Angeles need to get off to a faster start.
“We started off slow, they were aggressive at the beginning of the game out of the gates and I think after that first quarter we kind of settled in and started playing better,” Wallace said. “We have to start playing like [that] earlier and the defense started playing better as well.”
Before beating the Clippers, Detroit was riding the crest of a four-game losing streak. During the first two games of that unwanted streak, Griffin posted 34 points in back-to-back games against Utah and San Antonio. He scored just 16 points against a LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers and sat out the Pistons’ 112-102 defeat to the Sacramento Kings before going on a scoring explosion against the Clippers.
There’s no doubt that Griffin misses being part of the Clippers as he reflected on his time spent with the organization.
“I mean the best thing to be a part of is something bigger than yourself, and that is what that was,” Griffin said. “It took a lot. Vinny Del Negro came in and changed things, DeAndre [Jordan] and I were here, we got [Chris Paul], Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler. Those guys came in and each year you build that foundation, this is what it was. I don’t look at what I did, I was a part of it but, like I said, the coolest thing to do is to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself, that is what this was.”