LOS ANGELES — Blake Austin Griffin — that 6-foot-10 worker of miracles — well, he’s done the impossible.
He has made the Clippers cool.
He even made the ever-irrelevant Baron Davis cool again.
Heck, when Griffin leaped over that silver Optima, caught Davis’ alley-oop and slammed the contest-winning dunk, he even made the Kia cool. It was reminiscent of Travolta in the film “Get Shorty,” when his gangster character gets stuck driving a minivan, but does so with such panache, others yearned for their own sliding-door status symbol.
The Clippers’ rookie is the hottest thing going in the NBA, and the Nuggets are in Los Angeles today, hoping to avert any alley-ing.
“The thing about the
kid is he’s an incredible athlete with incredible jumping skills, but he also has great hands and has a tremendous intensity,” said Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team has won five of six games since trading Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. “This kid plays hard every possession. When a guy plays that hard on every possession, his skills just come forward. There’s no way you can keep him out of the game.”
This isn’t just the rookie of the year (no offense, Gary Forbes), this might be the best rookie since rookies. Griffin averages 22.8 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Clippers, who began the season 1-13 but have since gone 21-27. He started the All-Star Game, the first rookie to do so since China’s favorite son Yao Ming. And with his 3.6 assists per game, Griffin is the only guy in the league to average at least 20-12-3 (and only Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have done so since 2001-02).
“I see his work ethic — a kid who really seems to enjoy playing,” new Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “And playing at a high level. He’ll get better because he likes to work and loves to play. And that’s the most important thing for any young player, especially a player with the talent that he has. If you continue to love the game and work hard, the sky’s the limit for him.”
However, telling Griffin that the limit is the sky might seem like a challenge.
“He’s unique right now,” Jazz point guard Devin Harris said. “And when you think back to the old players, I don’t think anybody was that athletic and could do the things he can do.
“I think at the beginning of the season he was known as just a guy who could get to the rim and dunk. But I think he’s expanded his game as the year has gone on. He’s diversified his game — short jump shots to solid post moves.”
Now, everyone in the NBA can dunk, but Griffin throws haymakers. He’s become a “SportsCenter” staple. Watching a Griffin highlight is like watching a wave “grow” in the ocean. A lob is tossed and there’s that moment of — yep, Blake’s in perfect position . . . Blake has left the ground . . . Blake is walking on air . . . BOOM!
Two moments this season sum up his slamming significance.
The tunnels of Staples are concrete and very seldom does one hear much from the court.
But during a preseason doubleheader at the Staples Center in October, the Clippers were playing the first game when suddenly an ascending roar seeped through the concrete walls. It seemingly echoed.
Later, it was determined that Griffin had unleashed an eye-popping slam that brought the super-fan out of even the most casual preseason Clippers fan (and that’s saying something).
The second was Jan. 5, again at Staples Center. Griffin had a ho-hum night of 22-18-7, en route to a win against the Nuggets. In the first half, suddenly it sounded as if a shot had been fired. That’s how vicious a delicious Griffin dunk can be — it can startle bystanders.
“You got to make sure you keep him off the glass — and slow down his dunks,” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said, “because that’s where he gets the whole crowd involved.”
Benjamin Hochman: 303-954-1294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This is no ordinary rookie
He’s more than just a candidate for rookie of the year. Blake Griffin, who battles the Nuggets tonight, is in the running for the best rookie year in the past 30 seasons.
Season Player Team PPG RPG APG
2010-11 Blake Griffin Clippers 22.8 12.5 3.6
1997-98 Tim Duncan Spurs 21.1 11.9 2.7
1996-97 Allen Iverson 76ers 23.5 4.1 7.5
1992-93 Shaquille O’Neal Magic 23.4 13.9 1.9
1989-90 David Robinson Spurs 24.3 12.0 2.0
1984-85 Michael Jordan Bulls 28.2 6.5 5.9
1983-84 Ralph Sampson Rockets 21.0 11.1 2.0
Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post
Nuggets: Denver is 11 games over .500, the most it has been all season. . . . Forward Danilo Gallinari (fractured big toe) won’t play tonight, but will likely play in Denver’s next game Thursday at Phoenix. . . . In his past eight appearances, forward Kenyon Martin has averaged 10.4 points per game to go along with 7.5 rebounds. . . . Denver has allowed the opposition to score 100 or more points in 20 of its last 21 road games.
Clippers: After their trade with Cleveland, the Clippers new point guard is Mo Williams, who scored 17 points with 11 assists in his second outing for Los Angeles on Wednesday. . . . In the last game, Randy Foye scored just two points, but in the previous three games he tallied 24, 32 and 23. . . . Center DeAndre Jordan, who was previously mentored by former Nuggets center Marcus Camby, grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds against Denver on Jan. 5. He also scored 14 points with three assists and six blocks. . . . Former Nuggets guard Robert Pack is a Clippers assistant coach.