Clippers-Blazers Game 1: Blake Griffin goes signature Griffin

Apr 17, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) dunks against Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) during the second half in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) dunks against Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) during the second half in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Los Angeles Clippers blew past the Portland Trail Blazers to win Game 1 115-95, Blake Griffin took another explosive step forward to find his signature form.

In a brief return before entering the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Clippers got to enjoy a few moments of typical Blake Griffin contribution. Some extra rebounding, a few precise passes from the post, and a couple of dunks gave some signs of what he brings to the table as they look to make a deep run in the 2015-16 NBA playoffs.

There were signs, but they were often fleeting. It wasn’t hard to see that over the first few games there was a lack of explosion and increased level of tentativeness that we never see from Griffin.

As time went on, though, those weaknesses were less frequent, with Game 1 against the Blazers showcasing Blake Griffin delivering a signature Blake Griffin performance.

19 points on 5-of-10 shooting (9-of-12 on free throws), 12 rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block. It’s an on-form stat line for Griffin, further encouraging the Clippers with the fact that he made such an impact in only 31 minutes and needed just 10 shots to deal some serious damage. And that damage came in just the right manner, too, as the Clippers looked for mismatches and Griffin called for the ball whenever possible.

With that mindset to be the go-to guy, to be both aggressive through looking for shots and creating them with strength and confidence, Griffin found great success.

For instance, after just under five minutes of the first quarter, Griffin went to work as the Clippers were able to find the switches that only made it easier for him to find some emphatic rhythm. Once Damian Lillard came along, Griffin overpowered him with ease before turning and dunking straight over Mason Plumlee with his left hand.

It’s not a complicated play against 6’3″ Lillard by any means, but it’s the aggression and explosion to follow through with it that the Clippers need to see more of.

They didn’t have to wait long to see more of the same, either. During the first quarter, L.A. attempted only one three-pointer and made 14 of their 26 points in the paint. Yet again, it was Griffin showing how he can give the Clippers offensive diversity so well, adding a new playmaking dynamic inside to alter the trend of players settling for shots at the perimeter.

With zero hesitation to back down Al-Farouq Aminu — the Blazers’ best defender, albeit at a slight disadvantage in the post  — Griffin continued his physical play. Without doubt, it looks like the lingering quadriceps injury is becoming a thing of the past.

Griffn backs down Aminu G1
Griffn backs down Aminu G1 /

There were more dunks, too.

To make everyone in Staples Center fully aware that this is the best he’s been since returning from injury, Griffin drove down the lane at full throttle and put Plumlee on a poster with another left-handed dunk. It was the kind of forceful finish that removed the lingering thought of “is Griffin really healthy enough yet?”

Alongside DeAndre Jordan, who added his own share of dunks during an 18-point night, it was safe to say Lob City was in full swing for the first time in months. And as Griffin finished with a +/- of +21, coming second only to +29 from Chris Paul‘s masterclass (28 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, two steals), the well-rounded performance was a near perfect start to the Clippers’ playoff run.

“I’m just going to go play and play as hard as I can and fill any void that we see as a team,” Griffin said to Rowan Kavner of “I’m not really worried about the whole, ‘Can he get back,’ or, ‘Will he be able to play at a high level?’ It’s just about filling those gaps for our team and finding ways to help.”

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Play hard was the approach Griffin had all night. There weren’t possessions when he looked slightly out of shape or felt hesitant going for a dunk. Instead, he just attacked.

Griffin put a stamp of athleticism on his defensive performance, too. He’s often overly criticized due to the fact that he’s never been a great rim protector for someone with such remarkable physical talent, but he can play with real strength when holding opponents away from backing down in the post.

And against Plumlee, Griffin followed all the way through with that strength, chasing down a reeling post-up attempt and rejecting the shot.

Griffin blocks Plumee G1
Griffin blocks Plumee G1 /

Along with his 12 rebounds that helped the Clippers control the battle on the glass 48-40 (a rare feat after ranking 29th in rebounding rate this season), Griffin’s superior physical presence on defense in comparison to Paul Pierce or Jeff Green was obvious.

And just as much as any of the numbers that he filled out the box score with, it’s the manner in which Griffin approached the entire game that is so encouraging for the Clippers.

For both this first round series and going forward into the second round, when the environment and competition intensifies, they need the best of Blake.

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“I felt good,” Griffin added to Kavner. “I felt really good.”

Well, in Game 1, he was really good. And the Clippers were far better for it.