How Blake Griffin Dominated the Blazers in Game 1

The Trail Blazers didn't have an answer for Griffin Sunday night. How did he take advantage?

45 games.

After all was said and done, that's how many games Los Angeles Clippers power forward  Blake Griffin missed from December 26th to March 31st. 

First, it was a quad injury. Then, a broken hand stemming from an altercation with a staff member. And finally, a four-game suspension as a result of that same internal incident.

It was just two weeks ago that Griffin made his return to the hardwood in a game against the Washington Wizards. Naturally, he struggled to shake off the rust as he went 2 of 7 from the field for six points, five rebounds and four assists in 24-plus minutes. It wasn't the worst return, but it was evident that the All-Star forward wasn't in the best game shape yet.

It took one more subpar game for Griffin to round into form. In his next three games, Griffin averaged 14.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 27.1 minutes of play. Knowing that head coach Doc Rivers wasn't going to push his star, we could tell that Griffin was warming up in time for the playoffs.

But, I think I can speak for most NBA fans when I say that I did not expect a Game 1 performance like that.

In Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Griffin tallied 19 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists over roughly 32 minutes. However, it wasn't the box score that jumped out at me -- it was Griffin's play.

He did it all last night -- and the Blazers didn't stand a chance.

Bully Ball

The first thing any viewer will tell you from Griffin's play last night is that he was a flat out bully from the start. Despite missing his first shot attempt down low, Griffin made his physicality known early as he banged bodies with Al-Farouq Aminu prior to making a lunge toward the basket.

His first make of the game -- just seconds later -- said the same as Griffin wedged himself between two Blazers before tipping in a DeAndre Jordan misfire from the line.

According to, Griffin went on to attempt seven of his nine shots from inside 10 feet, where he converted all four of his made field goals. 

It didn't take long for Griffin to take full advantage of his power down low.

And when he wasn't serving up facials, Griffin was creating contact and converting 9 of 12 free throws from the charity stripe.

But there was much more to Griffin's play than simply backing down defenders and drawing fouls.

The Elbow Game

Both during the game and after further analysis, what stuck out most to me -- even more than Griffin's old school physicality down low -- was what Griffin brought to the Clipper offense from the elbow area.

Per's player tracking data, Griffin led the Clippers with 12 elbow touches on the game. His dozen such touches accounted for a ridiculous 44.4% of Los Angeles' 27 total elbow touches and 26% of Griffin's 46 frontcourt touches.

That's a high volume of touches for one particular area of the floor, but -- at least at first glance -- these touches didn't produce all that much, as Griffin totaled a mere 0.250 points per touch for three points. As I said, though, Griffin shied away from perimeter shots in favor of more shots in the paint and from the block. His scoring didn't come from the outside.

As for his unique playmaking skills, Griffin utilized those from the elbow as he facilitated several possessions from that spot of the floor. When he was active, this was a staple of the Clippers' offense throughout the year -- the four-man averaging 9.6 elbow touches on the season. But Griffin contributed less than an assist per contest on those touches.

What was different last night?

Blake Griffin Touches Points Assists Points from Assists   Total Points  
From the Elbow 12 3 5 11 14

Griffin didn't have to score from the elbow; he left that to his teammates. He made use of several handoffs and refused handoffs with J.J. Redick and Chris Paul running off of his backside for open jumpers, as made evident by Griffin's six screen assists (via's Hustle stats).

What made this type of motion offense so effective is the manner in which Griffin set the tone to start out the game. His threat to back down or attack defenders in the paint kept defenders at bay as he screened them off from contesting perimeter jumpers.

Griffin's ability to pound the ball in the paint and initiate offense from the elbow was a huge factor in the Clippers' offensive success in Game 1. It'll be interesting to see whether or not the Trail Blazers can come up with a way to slow down Griffin and the well-oiled Clipper offense.

In case you're wondering, this isn't it.