Blake Griffin tries to slow it down
Clipper, who knows one gear, scores 14 points on seven dunks in Rookie Challenge
LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin was supposed to take it easy. If this were a baseball game, he was supposed to take a few steps out of the dugout, turn around, tip his cap to the fans, sit back down and take the rest of the night off.
That's essentially what the Rookie Challenge was supposed to represent on Griffin's whirlwind three-events-in-three-days itinerary during his first NBA All-Star Weekend.
The problem is, Griffin doesn't have a middle gear. He doesn't have a "relax, it's just an exhibition" mode. If he's in the game, he's going to attack the rim and embarrass anyone within the vicinity -- situation and circumstances be damned.
It seemed Griffin was at least attempting to conserve his energy early, but anyone who knows him realizes that's about as hopeless as telling a kid to walk, not run, through an amusement park.
After losing the opening tip to Taj Gibson, a composed Griffin missed a couple of jump shots and turned the ball over twice before being taken out for Derrick Favors about four minutes into the game. It seemed as if Griffin's token appearance in the Rookie Challenge would amount to nothing more than an ominous beginning to his first All-Star Weekend.
"I got hit in the nose with an elbow and I was kind of dazed, and I went to the bench and collected myself," Griffin said when asked about his slow start. "They put me back in for a little bit. DeJuan [Blair] caught me with an elbow. I'll have to get him back after that."
Less than two minutes later, Griffin was back on the court. He quickly grabbed an alley-oop pass from John Wall and threw it down, sending the crowd into a frenzy -- a common occurrence at Clippers games this season. A minute later, Wall again found Griffin for an alley-oop, and this time, Griffin threw it down even harder for a dunk that might have earned him a perfect 10 had he performed it 24 hours later in the dunk contest.
After missing his first two attempts, Griffin made his next four -- all alley-oops. In fact, all of Griffin's seven made baskets were dunks, which might not showcase the well-rounded repertoire he hopes to one day attain but was certainly what the young fans in attendance came to see.
"That was the first time I've ever been on the court with [Wall]," said Griffin, who finished with 14 points in just less than 14 minutes. "It's easy to play with a guy who can play like that."
Griffin's teammates on the rookie squad got a taste of what Griffin's teammates on the Clippers have been experiencing all season. When they get the ball in the open court, they don't simply look at the rim and look to score; they try to find Griffin and his blazing red head running toward the basket so they can connect with him on an alley-oop.
Of Wall's 22 assists during the game, none was more memorable than his four connections with Griffin. Early in the second half, Wall bounced the ball to Griffin on a breakaway as if they were practicing an attempt for the dunk contest. Griffin grabbed the ball just above the rim and slammed it down. Wall celebrated by flying down to the other end of the court and doing the Dougie as if he had just made a game-winning shot.
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"Whenever you see 32 in a Clippers uniform out of the side of your eye, you basically can throw it anywhere in the gym," said Wall, who was named the game's MVP after the rookies beat the sophomores 148-140. "I just knew if I bounced it high enough, Blake would get it, and it turned into a spectacular play."
As one-dimensional as Griffin's game might appear to be now from his highlight reels, the fact is he makes his teammates strive to be two-dimensional and share the ball every time down the court.
A loud chant of "We Want Blake!" began to ring through Staples Center with 3:35 left and the rookies holding a 133-132 lead. Griffin simply smiled as he looked around at the kids in the crowd chanting his name. He almost looked embarrassed as they squealed when he was shown on the video board, putting his towel over his head. Griffin would get up and toss his wristbands at the fans chanting his name behind him as he left the court to a standing ovation.
"They didn't tell me I was going to have that kind of worker's duress," said Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer, who coached the rookies and played Griffin fewer minutes than anyone else in the game. "I think there should be some kind of compensation for that pressure. He's got a busy weekend. I'm sure he's going to do a lot of amazing things tomorrow and Sunday. So I think tonight, luckily, he took it easy."
Well, at least as much as Griffin is capable of "taking it easy."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.