Blake Griffin Is Having a Playoffs for the Ages
Blake Griffin has always been a dunker. He single-handedly made "to Mozgov" a universally understood verb by NBA fans. He has always been captivating, whether it be for his sense of humor while selling cars or his disregard for gravity while jumping over them.
He's always been a player with great promise, a first overall pick that has been in the "best at his position" conversation for most of his five-year career and a deserving second team All-NBAer for three years running (and potentially four when this year's teams are announced).
But for as talented and captivating as he's been in the past, that all pales in comparison to what he's been doing in this year's postseason. He hasn't just played good basketball, and his highlight package has not been limited to his feats of high-flying athleticism; simply put, he's been the best player in the 2015 NBA Playoffs to date and he's getting it done in every way imaginable.
Over the last two games, in particular, Blake has been out-of-this-world effective. First, he and Chris Paul's one healthy hamstring propelled the Los Angeles Clippers to a Game 7 and series victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. Then, on Monday night, Blake was phenomenal sans CP3 and managed to lead the Clippers to a road victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Houston Rockets by a score of 117-101.
In both crucial contests, Griffin posted triple-doubles, becoming the first player to do so in consecutive playoff games since Jason Kidd in 2002. In fact, Griffin's three postseason trip-dubs -- he also recorded one in Game 2 of the first round -- currently stand as the only ones that have been recorded during the 2015 NBA Playoffs by any participating player. As if that wasn't impressive enough, the fact that he's recorded three through eight games played places him among some pretty significant historical company:
He's double-doubled in all eight of those contests, on his way to averages of 24.4 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game, while shooting 46.8% from the field and 76.6% from the free throw line. Speaking of historical context, the only other player ever to average a minimum line of 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists in a playoff run of any length was Oscar Robertson, a veritable triple-double machine, who did it over 12 games with the Cincinnati Royals in 1962-63.
That ridiculous stat line puts Griffin near the top of the playoff leaderboards in many statistical categories this year.
|Points per game||24.4||7th|
|Rebounds per game||13.3||1st|
|Assists per game||8.1||3rd|
|Player Efficiency Rating (PER)||25.4||4th|
|Win Shares (WS)||1.4||3rd|
|Value Over Replacement Player (VORP)||0.88||1st|
The points and rebounds we've come to expect from Griffin (he has career averages of 21.5 and 9.7 respectively, after all), but it's been his superb passing and ballhandling this postseason that have made him stand out as a postseason MVP.
The Spurs forced Chris Paul to be more of a scorer in round one and took him out of the passing game as much as possible (he averaged 7.9 assists per game in the series, down from a career postseason average of 9.5). This forced Griffin into more of a facilitating role, a challenge he passed with flying colors.
He was able to carry that success running the offense over into Game 1 versus the Rockets. That was ultimately the difference in the contest, as the Clippers were able to make Houston look foolish, despite starting the inexperienced and unrefined Austin Rivers at the point in place of an injured Paul -- something that made most people believe a Game 1 Rockets win was a forgone conclusion.
Now, through eight games, Griffin has averaged more touches per game (106.2) than any other player in the postseason. That has led to 76.1 passes per game, which is third in the Association, only barely trailing John Wall (76.6) and Derrick Rose (76.3). He's creating 19.9 points per game for the Clippers with his assists (second to only John Wall at 30.8), while only having 13.8 assist opportunities per game (compared to Wall's 23.6). In other words, he's outpacing every starting point guard not named John Wall (including his own) in those categories this postseason.
The unbelievable job that Griffin is doing of getting buckets, grabbing boards, and creating opportunities for his teammates has made him indispensable for the Clippers, hence why he's averaging a postseason career-high 41.0 minutes per contest. Luckily for LA, he's been able to hack the exhausting workload too, considering the difference in how the team has performed with and without him on the floor.
|MIN||Off Rtg||Def Rtg||Net Rtg||eFG%||REB%||AST%|
The way Griffin's presence has helped the Clippers on both ends of the basketball court has been nothing short of incredible, as they are a full 39 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the floor. Again, the difference in assist percentage is flat out absurd, sample size be damned.
But don't let the numbers do all the talking. Do yourself a favor and watch Blake operate in Game 2 on Wednesday to appreciate fully how all-encompassing his impact on a game has become. He's still doing the high-flying dunks you've come to know and love, but he's doing oh so much more.
He's rebounding the ball like his life depends on it. He's hitting important free throws at a better rate than he ever has in his career (hack-a-Blake isn't even close to a thing). He's defending with a sense of purpose, getting into passing lanes, and using his leaping ability to swat shots in all directions. He's taking the rock from end to end on the fast break with control and a full head of steam better than any big man has since Charles Barkley. He's passing better than any big man has since...well, maybe ever.
If his level of play continues, this postseason could be remembered as the time when Blake took that definitive "leap" that superstars tend to at his age. As for the not-so-distant future, his dominance has the Clippers with a 79.02% chance to beat the Rockets and a significant 20.31% to win it all, according to our algorithms (the next best championship odds outside the Golden State Warriors at a whopping 48.55%).
A healthy Chris Paul's return to the lineup is obviously a crucial factor for the Clippers' championship hopes, but with Blake Griffin playing like a transcendent superstar and with the team coming off arguably two of the gutsiest and most impressive wins by any team this postseason, it's officially time that people start taking them seriously as contenders.