Blake Griffin Needed Some Adversity

Blake Griffin is on the cusp of something tremendous, and it’s all thanks to an embarrassing sweep by the San Antonio Spurs.

Perhaps the most explosive player in the league, he plays the game with the sort of captured chaos that rewards the I’ll-wait-to-go-to-the-bathroom anticipation of crowds in every arena. He possesses the natural talent to put up a 22-11-4 every night and the personality to turn himself into one of the most marketable athletes in the country.

And yet, getting swept by the Spurs in the second round of the NBA Playoffs might be the best thing that ever happened to Griffin. For all his high-flying prowess, his ability to fill out a box score, his wry smile that makes us think maybe we should consider a Kia, Blake Griffin is a liability to his team. And Chris Paul can fix that.

Paul’s descriptors say it all: architect, magician, maestro. But above all, he is a mean-streak competitor who doesn’t tolerate losing. And although Paul has done many things to enhance Griffin’s game and confidence—including his allowing Griffin to be the final player announced at home games—this summer will say even more about their relationship and Griffin’s commitment to improving his game.

Had the Clippers advanced further, had they played a lesser team, had they squeaked out win after win on Paul’s “I got this” confidence alone, Griffin might not have seen that his offensive game needs to evolve quickly. He might not have been so easily convinced that his 6.9 boards-per-game average in the postseason is indicative of a player who needs to develop playoff physicality. And he might not have appreciated that he needs to spend the summer on the charity stripe, fixing the hitch in his motion.

A player of Griffin’s caliber needs to be dominant throughout the game. But Griffin, with his poor free throw shooting, predictable set of offensive moves and suspect defense, sometimes finds himself hindering his team during the most critical moments of close games.

According to 82games.com, Griffin was 85th among qualifiers in crunch time scoring this season, placing him behind such round-ball luminaries as Gordon Hayward, Mike Dunleavy and Gustavo Ayón. (82games.com defines “crunch time” as the fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than five points.) He shot just 43% from the field and 58% from the line, and was among the top 10 in turnovers per 48 minutes—all numbers that, with Paul’s guidance and competitive push, can be improved upon.

Of course, Griffin is still a 23-year-old in his second year in the league. He might still be considering what the hell just happened in his first postseason. And he hasn’t yet begun to reach his mental prime. There’s plenty of time for him to develop on both ends of the court, but if he’s willing to learn immediately from this series, he’ll get there that much sooner.

Evans Is Leaving His Mark In Los Angeles

Every year there is a player or two that step out of obscurity to become a big part of their teams’ success in the playoffs.

For every Michael Jordan there is a Steve Kerr, for every Dirk Nowitzki there is a Tyson Chandler or Ian Mahimi, for every Kobe Bryant there is a Sasha Vujacic. A player that contributes more in a playoff setting then they may have during the regular season.

For the Clippers this year that player appears to be Reggie Evans.

He’s a banger.  He grabs rebounds he has no business getting, makes himself a pain in the rear on the defensive end and moves around the floor grabbing loose balls and missed shots like he isn’t 250 pounds.

Raptor fans know how valuable Reggie Evans can be to a team, and now the rest of the NBA is now getting a chance to see it as well as he has been a difference maker so far in the playoffs.

Evans is a game changer, an X-factor and in a series as evenly matched as Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers, he might just be the difference maker in this series. A player that tips the scales in his Clippers favor.

Evans has been putting together a nice run in the postseason.  He’s increased his minutes to 22.6 per game and he’s chipping in with 8.7 boards while shooting 50% from the field.  This from a player that averaged 5 rebounds in 13 minutes during the regular season.

His sudden playoff turnaround has come as a major shock south of the border.

Of course, while the rest of the US have been amazed with Evans’ sudden good play, the Raptor faithful in Toronto aren’t surprised at all.  That’s just how he always played the game while he was here. During his two years in Toronto he made himself a fan favorite with his endless effort.  Raptor fans weren’t used to seeing a player haul down rebounds on a regular and consistent basis.  He did.  He earned himself a starting spot during the 2010-11 season mainly because of his rebounding prowess.

Fans here couldn’t get enough of his effort.  He wasn’t a shooter or a flashy player , by any stretch of the imagination, but no player endeared himself to the fans more than Evans.

In fact, on a number of occasions during his time playing on the court and before he came back from injury in 2009 the fans at the ACC regularly chanted “Reg-gie, Reg-gie.” It now seems to be catching on in Los Angeles.

This year he found himself in LA playing a much less important role.  He didn’t get much time and was only able to make a marginal difference with 4.5 rebounds in limited minutes. He played off the bench behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and eventually Kenyon Martin, too.  He had to make the most of his minutes and, for the most part, he did.  He was the same hardworking player he was in Toronto but the results weren’t as noticeable on the court as they were the year before.

That is, until now.

The playoffs have been a totally different story and it seems like Reggie Evans was built for this time of year.  In the NBA playoffs players with his skill set become king.  Look at how Tyson Chandler exploded last year or how important Joel Anthony was during the Heats’ run last year.  Reggie Evans can be a difference maker in this series.  He may even become a difference maker in the playoffs in general if the Clippers are fortunate to make it beyond Game 7 in Memphis on Sunday.

Then again, Raptor fans already know how valuable Evans can be.  We had him for two years and were fortunate to watch him beat up opposing offenses.  Now while the Raptors prepare for an important offseason fans can sit back and enjoy watching Reggie get up to his old antics.

Hopefully we will get to see a little more after Sunday.

Clippers Playing With Mental Toughness, Grit

The Los Angeles Clippers rose to prominence this year due to a flashy style of play which earned them the team the nickname Lob City. With Chris Paul throwing alley-oops to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the team was constantly being featured on highlights reels and endeared themselves to fans.

That style of play, while flashy and exciting, isn’t one that normally allows a team to win a playoff series. With the Clippers playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, it was expected that injuries, inexperience and lack of toughness would result in a quick exit from the playoffs.

Los Angeles appeared to be in over their heads in Game 1 until they orchestrated one of the classic rallies in the history of the NBA playoffs. With only eight minutes left in the game, the Clippers rallied from a 27-point deficit to steal a win from the claws of the Grizzlies.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact Paul had to beg his head coach, Vinny Del Negro, to stay in the game. The all-star point guard and MVP candidate showed a ton of intestinal fortitude by wanting to fight in a fourth quarter that many people had stopped watching.

“Unfortunately, that’s how we play,” Paul lamented to the media. “We get killed in the first three quarters and in the fourth quarter we like to try to stand up for ourselves, and we found a way to win tonight.”

Memphis was able to recover to win Game 2 at home and appeared ready to steal home-court advantage back in Game 3. However, once again the Clippers showed a lot of resiliency and toughness as the Grizzlies offence went nearly 10 minutes with only one field goal to start the fourth quarter.

The Grizzlies had gone on a 25-14 run to take a 71-64 lead late in the third quarter when then the Grizzlies fell into a nasty shooting funk that extended into the fourth quarter. All-Star big man Marc Gasol made a field goal with 7:10 left to push the Grizzlies lead to 77-71, but that was Memphis’ last basket until the first of Gay’s two three-pointers in the closing seconds that added a bit of drama to the end of the game.

“We shut down and only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins vented. “We took too many quick shots and gave up second-chance points. We gave them the back door and Blake (Griffin) took advantage of it.”

If you take out those six points by Gay in the final seconds then Memphis would have only had one field goal in the entire fourth quarter.

The reason Memphis was shut down in the fourth quarter is because the Clippers used a physical style of play that caught the Grizzlies off guard and put them on their heels.

That physical style of play has originated from a couple of the team’s veterans setting a painful example by playing through an assortment of injuries while still playing with reckless abandon on the court.

Caron Butler played through a broken hand on Saturday afternoon. When he injured it less than a week ago, the team’s medical staff thought he would be out four to six weeks, not four to six days. Butler played through the pain on Saturday, and while he didn’t contribute a lot to the final box score, just being on the court seemed to inspire his teammates.

Chris Paul has been playing through a groin injury this entire series that has slowed him down. He broke through in Game 3 for a double-double by scoring 24 points and dropping 11 dimes.

Reggie Evans, while not injured, has been a complete beast on the glass this series and he did a great job in Game 3 with 11 rebounds.

Heading into this series, Memphis was supposed to be the franchise which would thrive on their toughness and grit. But, three games into this series it’s Los Angeles who has a 2-1 advantage thanks to their grit and mental toughness.

If this gritty style of play keeps up then the Clippers may be on their way to shedding the Lob City nickname moniker that they despise.