Blake Griffin has spent the better part of fourth months shedding the misconceptions about his supposedly “one-dimensional” game.
Sunday night at the 63rd annual All-Star game in New Orleans, however, Griffin undid some of that progress by nearly dunking his way into the record books.
Griffin tied Kevin Durant with a game-high 38 points — four shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star record of 42 — on 19-of-23 shooting (an All-Star record for field goals made by one player), to go along with 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals. If the West had won, which was basically a foregone conclusion until the game’s final minutes, Griffin likely would have been MVP, or at least been co-MVP with KD.
Unfortunately, the West didn’t score after the 1:59 mark, allowing Carmelo Anthony’s 3-pointer with 1:04 left to seal the East’s 163-155 comeback victory. Kyrie Irving (31 points, 14 assists) scored 15 points in the fourth, and ended up winning the MVP award.
“They started making shots and we didn’t get stops and we went a little bit cold,” Griffin told reporters after the game.
The story of the night, at least on the Clippers’ front, was Griffin’s aerial attack and effortless scoring effort.
He finished a slew of alley-oops and dump passes from Chris Paul (11 points, 13 assists, 3 steals) and Stephen Curry, sprinkling in a windmill and a couple reverse jams to add some variety. He even made a few jumpers for those who still claim he can’t shoot (according to NBA.com/Stats, he’s up to 39.2 percent from midrange this season, which is about league average or slightly better).
Overall, Griffin shot 82.6 percent, highlighted by 16 makes at the rim (10 dunks). Two of his four misses were off 3-point attempts, and while the other two were point-blank misses at the rim, they were odd occurrences — one was a botched lob pass that was somehow credited as a Griffin miss; the other time he was so wide open on a tip-in that he simply overshot it.
Still, his shot chart was ridiculous:
It foolish to take away much from an All-Star game — does anyone seriously think the East is better or has more talent than the West? — but it’s encouraging to see Griffin’s progress in the hierarchy of his peers.
Never mind the dunks or the highlights; the fact that Griffin was confident and aggressive enough to constantly seek out scoring opportunities was impressive — only Durant, who took 27 shots and was ball-hogging a bit at the end, had more field-goal attempts. That isn’t something Griffin would have done in past seasons (case in point: he didn’t do it in any of his three previous All-Star games).
Griffin’s athleticism and unique finishing ability make him an easy target for lobs, and a game with little to no defense is perfectly suited for those strengths. But he still had to run and jump and cut and roll to find openings in the defense and create his scoring opportunities, and it’s promising to see him do that in a big game in the national eye.
Grantland’s Bill Simmons has mentioned before that All-Star games often serve as a snapshot of the season. We see which players were good enough to make the team in the first place, and then which five players from each conference gave their coaches enough confidence to have them close out the game.
Sunday night Griffin was one of those guys (and, to little surprise, so was Paul, who played instead of Curry late). Perhaps more importantly, he was clearly the contest’s best big man, outplaying Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, etc. That matters to some extent.
This season has been a referendum on Griffin’s game. He’s refined his post game, improved his midrange jumper and free-throw shooting, developed into a respectable defender, and added a level of aggression and assertiveness that he used to only show in flashes. This is the versatile, nuanced monster we all envisioned him becoming in his prime. And he’s only 24. Sunday’s game was a reflection of his newly matured mindset, even if he didn’t have the opportunity to show off all of his skills in his toolkit.
For one night, Griffin returned to his polarizing roots. He gave his critics all the fodder they need to dissect and criticize his game. The difference is that he doesn’t care about his misguided perception anymore, if he ever did.
“Yeah, I’m terrified of that,” Griffin joked when asked after the game about being pigeonholed as a dunker, according to CBS Sports’ Zach Harper. “I don’t care, man. People are going to say whatever they’re going to say. I just take the points as they come.”
Griffin isn’t looking to change the type of player that he is at this point, which is fine. That guy is arguably the league’s best big man and, at the very least, is better and more skilled than most people assume or give him credit for.
All Blake Griffin did was dunk in the All-Star game, and it was freaking awesome.