NBA players aren’t the only ones who make circles on the calendar. For the writers and other media types who cover the League, we have our own list of big games. And if you’re covering the New York Knicks, the list going into the 2010-11 season was well-known: Lakers. Heat. Celtics. Future Knick Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets. Amar’e and D’Antoni‘s former mates from Phoenix. And … the Clippers?
Nobody had it penciled in before the season, but with rookie phenom Blake Griffin‘s exploits, the Clips have become one of the NBA’s top attractions. If you needed proof, you should have been there at Madison Square Garden last night.
In the New York locker room, Blake must have been a popular topic all day. Written on the dry-erase board:
1. Griffin’s favorite move: lane spin to right hand
2. Jordan no threat 7-feet from basket
3. Jordan/Griffin lobs: off spin outs / guard penetration
In the visitor’s locker room, the media were all waiting around for Blake like they had a crush on him and just wanted to say hi. If this was Valentine’s Day, someone would have had those little candy hearts. And I think I saw one reporter with a handwritten note that said, “Do you like me? Check one…”
It’s sad to say, but there was NO ONE else that anyone wanted to talk to. The Clippers apparently knew that too, as Blake began the pre-game media availability time getting up shots on the court, and the only guy sitting in the locker room was Craig Smith. Everyone else was either in the trainer’s room or on the court. You would think the vets would at least make rookies like Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe go sit out in front.
Back in to the Knicks locker room, it was just as barren. Raymond Felton came out to talk briefly, and he mentioned in jest that Blake must have some sort of “fake knee.” He also wanted to make it very clear that Blake is NOT a rookie and that he was bummed he was going to miss the start of the Duke/UNC game. Maybe his TiVo caught the Tar Heels blowing a 14-point halftime lead and falling in Durham again.
For pre-game intros, the Clippers (like all visiting teams) got booed, but there was definitely a large contingent of people cheering loudly for Blake. I heard Blake was asked to perform the national anthem, but politely declined. And for some reason, the Knicks somehow thought it would be a good idea to replay Blake’s highlights against them earlier this season on GardenVision. WHY?! Do you want Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov to come down with a sudden case of poster flu?
Of the first 16 Clipper points, I’d say 75 percent of them were dunks from Blake and DeAndre Jordan. At the same time, Mozgov (who got the start) was actually doing work. Try 12 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in the first quarter. Griffin had 8 points and 2 boards after the first 12 minutes. You could say that Mozgov Mozgov’d the Clippers.
(I totally wanted to talk to former Knick Howard Eisely before the game, who’s now the assistant coach for player development with the Clippers. Think L.A.’s version of Tyronn Lue. In the game notes we were reminded of the three-team deal that brought Eisely to the Knicks: Eisely to New York, Glen Rice to Houston, Muggsy Bogues to Dallas. WHAT?!)
Blake finished the night with 21 points and the Clippers won the game. He’s already reached the LeBron and Kobe stage where even though the road crowd mostly treats him like an enemy, you can feel it that they want to see him do something spectacular. Whenever Blake had a chance for a highlight, there was a buzz through the Garden that’s usually reserved for Amar’e.
Question: How many years do we have left of Blake Griffin dunking everything in sight? Vince Carter gave us like seven, and now he’s known to settle for jump shots and everybody hates him for it. What will happen when Blake inevitably sees his game evolve?
And in the end, that’s why it makes sense to catch somebody like Griffin in-person any time you can. Because unlike a Tim Duncan or a Jason Kidd, Griffin can’t do what he’s doing now forever. (Unless he really does hail from Planet Dunk-tron.) At some point he’ll become less Shawn Kemp and more Karl Malone, and who knows when that change will happen. For now, the buzz is palpable and the media is in a frenzy. At least I’m pretty sure last night wasn’t the last time it will be like that for Blake in the Garden.
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