Blake Griffin too much for Pacers
The Clips rookie blitzed Indiana for 47 points, the most of any NBA player this season
None -- not even one measly alley-oop dunk. Just a two-handed slam on a pass from point guard Baron Davis in the first half. But the rookie forward more than made up for his lack of a dunk display with a career-high 47 points -- on only 24 shots, no less -- against the Pacers.
His previous high had been 44, set in that now-infamous November loss to New York in which he dunked over the Knicks' Timofey Mozgov and Danilo Gallinari. Griffin also set the bar for the NBA this season, surpassing Utah's Paul Millsap's previous high of 46, and came just five points short of the Clippers' 21-year-old franchise record of 52 set by Charles Smith.
"Blake is a special player," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward. "And the great thing about him is that he can be better, and he knows that and he wants to."
Monday's game completed a remarkable turnaround for Griffin, who struggled to stay on the court and score in the first three quarters of Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers but rebounded to record a dynamic final stretch run against Los Angeles' other team -- 16 points in the final 15 minutes -- and a 28-point first half against the Pacers.
And that he did it without the dunks was telling. Everything was working for Griffin on Monday -- the patented up-and-under reverse layups, the occasional hook shot and the 17-footers he has sometimes struggled with this season. The jumpers -- Griffin made seven of 10 shots outside the key -- were especially telling.
"That's when you know it's a good night," said Davis, who finished with 14 points and 12 assists for his second double-double on the season. "Because that keeps the defense off balance.
"It's frustrating enough to have to bang with him and not be able to defend him there and then he constantly continues to progress, but when he starts spinning off guys and hitting the floater and hitting the jumpers, making plays for other people -- he's a tough guard."
Griffin indeed made for quite the tough guard for the Pacers. Indiana coach Jim O'Brien said he was spectacular, said his team flat-out could not guard him, said the Pacers tried everything they could to defend him and still couldn't. Then he came to a conclusion: Griffin was simply too much for them to handle.
"I could say it 100 different ways," O'Brien said, "but that's the bottom line."
47-14 games under 21 years old, all-time
|Blake Griffin, LAC||'10-11||47-14|
|Michael Jordan, CHI||'84-85||49-15|
|Rick Barry, SF||'65-66||57-15|
The Pacers tried almost 100 different things to defend Griffin. Undersized forward Tyler Hansbrough started the game on him but struggled immediately and was later supplanted by Solomon Jones, James Posey, Jeff Foster and even Mike Dunleavy for a stretch.
"They were trying to do the percentage play and just leave him open for the jumpers and take him away from the basket, but he was just knocking them all down," said guard Eric Gordon, who had 23 points and seven assists. "You can't stop all that at the same time."
After the clock wound down on the win, the Clippers' (15-25) fifth in six tries, Del Negro approached his star and congratulated him on the 47-point, 14-rebound, three-assist performance. Griffin, his coach later pointed out, was great from the free throw line, too. Including 11 tries from the stripe, he made 28 of his 35 shot attempts Monday.
And what did Griffin say to his coach's comments?
"Yeah, except for that first shot."
That first shot he referred to was actually his third, a 19-foot jumper that came up a foot short of the rim for an air ball five minutes into the first quarter. It was one of his five misses from the field on the day. Two trips down the floor later, Griffin converted a layup and foul, then got a defensive rebound and started a fast break.
"My shot was feeling good tonight in warm-ups and then I come out and I air-ball my first one," Griffin said afterward. "It's like, 'Here we go again.'
"Luckily my teammates got me some easy ones, and that got me going tonight."
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Asked whether he could see the inherent irony in his comment considering the game's result, Griffin waxed philosophical.
"After you have a big game, you can't just say, 'That's it, I've arrived,' by any means," he said. "I'm always pushing it to be better. You always want to be better than you are, no matter what. I think that's important. Once you become complacent and once you're happy with your performance or whatever it is, I don't think you'll get better as quickly."
As the Clippers approach the halfway point of Griffin's rookie season, it's hard to argue with the 21-year-old forward. He has gotten better quickly this season, upping his point, rebound and assist totals on a monthly basis and improving in many peripheral categories such as free throw shooting. Is there more improvement to come?
"There's a process involved," Del Negro cautioned after Monday's game. "You can't speed it up too fast.
"But what can you say? Forty-seven and 14? We'll take that."
Final notes: Pacers point guard Darren Collison finished with 30 points, eight assists and three steals as he ran around the Clippers' defense all game. The points were a season high for the former UCLA Bruin. ... Clippers rookie guard Willie Warren took to the microphone just before tipoff to give a brief speech commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, thanking the fans in attendance for helping salute King's life and legacy. The Clippers also played clips on the video board of Griffin, Gordon and Davis reading King's "I Have a Dream" speech.