Commentary

Blake Griffin more than just dunks

Despite New York stage, Clippers rookie lets the game come to him in a 116-108 win

Updated: February 10, 2011, 10:27 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

NEW YORK -- Timofey Mozgov could feel it coming. Blake Griffin could smell it. The sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden nervously inhaled all together, waiting to be thrilled.

All that was missing was the theme music to "Jaws."

Only this time, Griffin didn't dunk.

Six feet out, Mozgov in perfect step-stool position, another poster waiting to be framed, and Griffin didn't dunk. He laid it in. A smooth finger roll. And it was kind of weird.

Such is the peculiar nature of being Blake Griffin these days.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin had an unspectacular 21 points and six rebounds against the Knicks, but all that mattered to him was a victory.

"Those plays, they just happen," Griffin said, when asked if he feels pressure to top himself. "It's not something where I'm consciously going out, saying 'I gotta do this, gotta do that.'

"If they happen, they happen. But I would give up every single one of those plays for a win. So I'm happy with the results tonight."

The Los Angeles Clippers won the game, beating the New York Knicks, 116-108, to end a four-game losing streak and seven-game road skid. Griffin had a solid 21 points and six rebounds. He even sent home a number of electric dunks.

And yet it was a little unsatisfying because he didn't duplicate the sublime 44-point, 15-rebound, Mozgov-climbing game he'd put up against the Knicks on Nov. 20 at Staples Center.

That was the game that started it all. The beginning of the mushroom cloud that has enveloped Griffin, the Clippers franchise and large swaths of the NBA the past two months.

Griffin has been so great, so fast, he has created an unrealistic set of expectations everywhere he goes. What's even more amazing is how often he meets them.

Wednesday night, in his first trip to Madison Square Garden as a professional, the expectations fell somewhere between Kobe-like and God-like.

The Clippers hired extra security. A crowd of fans waited in freezing temperatures outside a Midtown hotel to meet the team when it arrived from Orlando at 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Ticket requests started coming in weeks in advance. Longtime season-ticket holders couldn't even score them.

If it wasn't for the Mets' financial problems and New York's current obsession with all things Carmelo Anthony, Griffin and the Clippers would've been splashed across the cover of every paper in town.

Before the game, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro took questions for 12 minutes. All but three of them had to do with Griffin.

It's too much in a way. But right now, no one can get enough of the kid.

"At times I think everyone just needs to take a step back and give the guy some breathing room," Del Negro said. "Let him enjoy what he's doing, but also let him learn and grow and see where this goes."

That should be the fun part.

Watching where this goes. Seeing the game slow down for him. Shaking our heads at every leap and bound.

The only problem is how quickly it has happened.

He has been so good, so fast, the rest of the league is starting to game plan for him. Even when leading scorer Eric Gordon was healthy, opponents had begun to double-team Griffin and employ roughhouse tactics to slow him down.

With Gordon out the past two weeks because of a cracked bone in his wrist, the attention has only increased.

Griffin had one of his worst games of the season in Tuesday's loss to Orlando, finishing with 10 points and 12 rebounds while making just 4-of-12 shots.

"Last night Dwight Howard came over and really loaded up on Blake and double and triple teamed him," Del Negro said. "He made good passes out of double teams. But we shot the ball very poorly.

"We haven't shot the ball well to put any pressure on anybody, take some pressure off Blake by making shots."

The Knicks had obviously studied the tape from the night before. They mixed their coverages on Griffin, double teaming him whenever he spun into the lane, daring him to pass, which he dutifully does.

This time guys on the receiving end of those passes made their shots. Six Clippers finished in double figures, including all five starters.

Guard Randy Foye got about as hot as he has ever been, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter to help ice what turned into a hard-fought win. Baron Davis had 16 points and 16 assists, continuing his streak of rejuvenated play. Even Ryan Gomes got it going, connecting on eight of 11 shots for 18 points.

"A lot of people only give him credit for his dunks or his stats," Davis said. "They don't really know how he sets guys up.

"He's learning how to find guys. He's growing. His game has really improved. And it's going to continue to improve."

That's the scary part.

And, the peculiar part of being Blake Griffin these days.

Having cleared Mozgov and every other hurdle in his way, no one's quite sure how to react when he simply lays the ball in softly.

A finger roll on the biggest stage in basketball?

It may not be for the same reasons Amare Stoudemire had on that sublime November night, but how about a nod?

You know, for the win.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.