Blake Griffin is an interesting subject for statistical analysis. He’s an often spectacular athlete whose numbers – at least the ones most pundits pay attention to – look really good. The combination of the “eye test” and the stats (again, at least the ones most folks pay attention to, *cough* points *cough*) led many to argue that, in 2013-14, Griffin was the third best player in the league. In fact, he wasn’t close. (since he was injured for a chunk of 2014-15, no one touted Griffin the same way this year).
He’s a quality player, to be sure. But his high point totals are more attributable to the frequency with which he shoots than to great efficiency as a shooter (despite all those incredible dunks). He started his career as an excellent rebounder, but has steadily declined in that department. This season, in fact, he was a poor rebounder. He is an excellent passer for a big man, but a below average shot blocker. Add it all up and you get a very good, though somewhat overrated player.
But another narrative has emerged about Griffin – that he doesn’t have “it,” especially at crunch time. This is partly a function of his team’s disappointing playoff showings. For all their top line talent, the Clips have never made a conference final. And their best player, Chris Paul, has failed in key moments, as against Houston in last year’s playoffs, generating skepticism more generally about the team’s crunch time chops.
And that narrative helped to obscure what a great first round Griffin just completed. Because he had a couple of rough fourth quarters – notably his 1 for 8 shooting performance in Game 5, in what appeared at the time to a be devastating home loss agains the Spurs – undue attention was focused over the past two weeks on Griffin’s play in the clutch.
This was frankly bizarre, because Griffin was tremendous against San Antonio, absolutely essential to their first round win in a great seven game series. Griffin scored 24 points a game, which normally wows the basketball cognoscenti. In the event, he didn’t shoot particularly well, hitting only 46% of his shots. Those same cognoscenti normally don’t care (see their coverage of Carmelo Anthony or Andrew Wiggins). But he was a monster in other phases of the game, phases which actually matter vitally to wins and losses, but which are, it seems, too boring to merit sustained attention. Griffin snatched 13 rebounds a game, had nearly a steal and a half and a block and a half per contest, and did his best CP3 impression as a passer, averaging over seven dimes a game with an assist to turnover ratio of better than two and a half to one.
In other words, in almost every area, Griffin raised his game substantially – against pretty decent competition, I might add – in a playoff series played at the highest level.
And what about those fourth quarters? Beginning with LA’s 114-105 win in San Antonio in Game Four, Griffin scored just two points in the quarter, on 1 of 4 shooting. But he also snatched ten – count ’em, ten – rebounds in that quarter. That’s a massive contribution to the team’s victory, one completely overlooked in the post-game commentary.
As noted above, Griffin went 1 for 8 in the final quarter of Game Five, the one that led Colin Cowherd to crow on his show the next day that everything Colin ever believed about the deficiencies in Griffin’s game had been *proven* true. Even in that game, Griffin had five fourth quarter rebounds (and 14 on the night) and also shot what could well have been the game winning basket with seconds to play, had his teammate DeAndre Jordan not interfered with the ball when it was still in the cylinder.
In game six, another stirring road win for the Clippers, Griffin had the following line: 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, four blocks and no turnovers in 41 minutes. In the 4th quarter, which the Clippers entered up by four points and where true character is revealed, Griffin had 8 points and four rebounds, while not missing a shot.
And in the thrilling and decisive Game Seven, decided by CP3’s mind-bending banker with one second left, Griffin managed a triple double and scored seven key 4th quarter points, while missing one shot (he did turn the ball over twice). By my count, In the final two games, Griffin scored a combined 15 4th quarter points, snatched six rebounds, missed one field goal attempt and hit all of his free throws.
Does this make him Michael Jordan as a crunch time player? No. But in all the chatter of the past two weeks about Griffin’s late game troubles, what was missed was the degree to which Griffin raised his game for a team short on depth and in desperate need of elevated performances from its stars. Griffin delivered precisely that. You’d just never know it actually listening to the pundits who are supposed to explain what happened.