No one seems to hang around the rim better than Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin.
Ask Kris Humphries, Lamar Odom, Mario Chalmers, Channing Frye, Kendrick Perkins, and Pau Gasol, all of whom have been posterized by Griffin, arguably the NBA’s most enthralling dunker.
“He’s a good, young player…very athletic,” Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said of Griffin, whom he will often be assigned to guard when the Clippers and Grizzlies meet for Game 2 of their opening round best-of-7 Western Conference playoffs series Wednesday night at FedExForum.
Of these players, Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Lakers power forward seemed to have been dealt the most humiliation while trying to defend whom his younger brother, Marc Gasol, described as the best finisher in the league.
Less than two minutes into an April 4 game at the Staples Center, Griffin caught a perfectly-timed miss by Randy Foye in mid-air then threw down a thunderous two-handed slam over Pau Gasol, sending the 7-foot Spaniard tumbling to the floor while drawing laughs from fellow teammate Andrew Bynum.
Later in the game, Griffin added yet another captivating highlight to his YouTube video repertoire.
After fielding a bounce pass from Caron Butler near the lane, the 6-foot-10 Griffin penetrated hard toward the basket then converted a one-handed slam that knocked Pau Gasol off balance as he plunged toward the floor.
Though many rated Griffin’s dunks over Pau Gasol among his best high percentage field goals this season, Marc Gasol dissented all of the hoopla surrounding the plays.
“I mean, it’s no big,” said Marc Gasol, who admittedly watched footage of Griffin’s dunks over his brother. “It’s two points.”
Two points that, on numerous occasions, have drawn continuous rave reviews, particularly among opposing fans whenever Griffin is left unguarded in the open court or is seen hanging around the basket.
While fans and opposing teams have come to embrace Griffin’s flamboyant style of play, the former University of Oklahoma star is steadily making a case for emerging as one of the young bright power forwards in the NBA.
Now in his second full season after a broken left kneecap sidelined him for what would have been his rookie campaign in 2009-2010, Griffin finished the regular season ranked tenth in the league in scoring at 20.7 points per game, fifth in rebounding (10.9 per game), fourth in double-doubles (42), and seventh in field goal percentage (.556).
After a disastrous first half showing in Game 1 in which he was limited to just two points on 1-of-3 shots against Memphis, Griffin played a pivotal role in the Clippers’ memorable 99-98 comeback win that was highlighted by them overcoming a 27-point second-half deficit.
He managed 15 of his 17 points after intermission, including 10 points during a key 26-1 spurt that translated into the Clippers’ first of the contest.
Besides producing four dunks in the contest, Griffin scored on close-range and jump hooks in the lane, a far cry from a first half against the Grizzlies in which he appeared mostly out of sync after missing badly on a number of open and closely-contested shots. What’s even worse is that he heard scattered booed by Grizzlies fans each time he touched the ball.
“For every 20 people that say something positive, there are going to be 20 people to say something negative…40 really,” Griffin said.
Among the Griffin’s constant struggles is his inability to make free throws. In two-plus seasons, Griffin is shooting 53 percent from the free throw line, something that, according to USA Today national NBA writer, J. Michael Falgoust, will continue to set the reigning Rookie of the Year apart from other elite power forwards.
“There are still some things he doesn’t do well,” Falgoust said of Griffin. “I look at his height for a guy his size, he doesn’t block shots well. I mean, right now, I’d take Kevin Love over him. He’s a liability on offense. He’s averaging 22 (points) a game. If he hits his free throws, he’s averaging 30 points a game.
Luckily for the 23-year-old Griffin, the 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick, his best days in the NBA are well ahead of him.
“It comes with a little bit of seasoning,” Falgoust said. “I still make Griffin a top five (power forward), but it’s roughly about fourth or fifth. When you consider 32 teams and all of the power forwards, that’s not so bad. He’s not fully maxed out and that’s the scary thing. When he develops more as a defensive player and hits 70 to 75 percent of his free throws, his numbers are just going to be completely explosive.”
Fortunately for Griffin, after the Lakers’ attempt to acquire Chris Paul fell through, the Clippers’ management was able to land the veteran point guard days before the start of the condensed regular season to help complement his game.
So far, it’s safe to assume that Griffin and Paul have managed to co-exist, especially given the immeasurable roles they played in what was a historic comeback for the ages in Game 1.
“I think everybody knows that Blake needs Chris and Chris needs Blake,” Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay said. They’re a great tandem.”
However, in what has now become a must-win situation for Memphis in Game 2, the Grizzlies realize they can’t afford to allow Paul to become comfortable orchestrating the offense, particularly if the game is hanging in the balance.
Also, the Grizzlies must devise ways to prevent Griffin from hanging freely around the basket, a gambit that’s been virtually difficult to achieve this year, considering Griffin finished with an NBA-best 192 dunks during the regular season.
“Right now, I’m just trying to become a better overall player,” Griffin said.
Especially since it’s obvious he has gotten this dunking thing down pat.
Ask Pau Gasol.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.