You could see it coming, albeit it took an extra year to truly surface. You could feel the woosh as it swept by, but that feeling was never quite as strong as it is now. Too bad it didn’t have an odor, for if it did, the smell would undoubtedly make you cringe, more so for its authority than the stench. This force of nature, the amazingly nimble, slippery, yet destructively dangerous power that exploded out of this young NBA season was supposed to happen.
But not like this.
Blake Griffin shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing. The NBA has seen a lot of great athletes over the course of its 63 years of existence, but hardly any have ever sought and destroyed the way Griffin has through his first 14 games. The not-so-rookiesque line of 18.5 points and 10.9 rebounds a game is scary in itself. But those digits are almost tame compared to the brutality the 2009 No. 1 overall pick is unleashing on both NBA rims and inquiring opposition across the country. His banishment to the jayvee team in Los Angeles and a year off, thanks to a stress fracture in his left knee, must’ve made us all forget.
The Los Angeles Clippers aren’t known for much of anything besides failure. They’ve taken many a talented player and turned them into mush, caricatures of themselves. Back when they were stationed in San Diego, the Clippers acquired the once-great Bill Walton, whose foot issues became increasingly troublesome once he got there. He was never the same again. Reoccurring knee issues, which were almost immediate once he donned the Clipper white, red and blue, zapped the basketball zeal right out of Danny Manning, leaving the No. 1 overall pick in the 1988 Draft a part-time player. The Clippers also made Michael Olowokandi and Darius Miles two of their highest Draft picks in team history, and two of the biggest busts in League history. And now Baron Davis is the latest victim, a once spectacular mix of skill and athleticism, morphing into a bloated, numbed version of something that was once so promising. Not all of this was their fault. You can’t blame Donald Sterling for everything. Yet it seems like tragedy is consistently following the franchise.
That cloud, that dreaded mask of negativity passes over no one. Fans hoped last season’s injury was enough setback for their latest savior. Nope, it still hangs around, a foreboding horizon.
It took less than a month of this season for eyebrows to start raising at Griffin. No doubt, he has probably been head coach Vinny Del Negro’s most consistent player thus far, beginning with a fabulous 20 and 14 outing on opening night against Portland. But L.A. has stumbled to a 1-13 start. As one loss begets another and another, those Ls piling up in a heap, there were signs. Against the Pacers last Thursday night, the same dazed and beaten look that’s so familiar to Clipper fans was there once again with Griffin as he roosted on the bench during a 107-80 Pacer win.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons, a Clipper “default” super-fan, described that look like this: I knew this could be bad, and I’d been warned by everybody, but still, I didn’t know it would be THIS bad.
In the course of an 82-game season, stretching from late-October until mid-April, with many nights spent in the dead of a Minnesota storm or in the boredom of a back-to-back in Charlotte, that feeling could easily overcome a rookie. It’s basically expected.
Can one night change everything? All of that despair, dejection and hopelessness, can it all be destroyed with one tremendous 39 minute performance? Amar’e Stoudemire might think so. Danilo Gallinari knows so…he met that beast head on and came away whimpering. But Griffin’s mind-bending 44 point, 15 rebound, 7 assist outing on Saturday night against the Knicks, a game so complete that no other rookie has put up numbers quite like it since Oscar Robertson did over 50 years ago, has everyone on edge.
That entire game was like one long eclipse, Griffin seemingly gaining steam as the night went along. He was hitting fadeaways off the glass, and trying to dunk whenever he touched the ball. By the fourth quarter, every time the rookie got anywhere close to the basketball, you could hear the collective hum of the crowd grow anxiously. Even on the court, Stoudemire had to raise an eyebrow at Griffin, obviously partly impressed, but also in shock. That entire arena was ready to give Blake Griffin a standing ovation until April, overjoyed to have hope. Hell, he started receiving MVP chants towards the end of the game. In a loss. As a rookie. No one does that.
Clipper studio analyst Don MacLean said after the night was over: “It wasn’t a game. It was a performance.” For Griffin, there’s no telling what might lie ahead.
More than likely, the curse of the Clipper won’t be vanishing any time soon. More than likely, Blake Griffin will flee the scene before it improves. That’s what’s expected, or at least par for the course when it comes to being a Clipper. You either fade, like Baron Davis. Or you leave. But, whoever said Griffin was just “par?” Off the court, he might be normal, but on it? Lord help your soul if you are between him and the rim. Regular need not ever come to describe Blake Griffin.
Lets just hope for the sake of the NBA, and for the sake of the fans, the Clippers not only fail to soak up Griffin’s ambition, power and highlight-driven game, but that Griffin carries them along with him for the ride.
He’s made them relevant. Now hopefully Griffin will make them winners.
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