Panic Switch: A look at Blake Griffin's lackluster return


Source: (Hashtag Basketball - Brian Han)

(LOS ANGELES, Calif.) -- Never trust a weather report.

Blake Griffin's return hasn't really featured rain in the form of midrange jumpers as promised in his latest Kia commercial.

Sure, the Los Angeles Clippers are on a six-game win streak. Yeah, they've won 10 of their last 11 games. But there are still clouds of doubt lingering over Southern California.

If you take a closer look at those wins, you have nine different opponents who have a combined win percentage of .454.

The single loss during that span came against a team that will matter come playoffs -- the Western Conference third-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. 

(As discussed in a previous feature, that game sums up a problem the Clippers have had all season -- a lack of success against the top-five NBA teams in the form of a 2-13 record.)

During the Clippers' April 10 matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, Griffin put up six jumpers in the first half including a 20-footer from the baseline that completely missed the rim.

Only one found the basket. In just five games played since his return, his field goal percentage stands at .400.

A few things.

He still has a tear in his left quadricep tendon, which is the reason he missed 45 games in the first place. Naturally, he could be forced to dial down his aggressiveness in the paint. That leads to a heavier reliance on his jump shot.

That's not necessarily a bad thing considering he's developed that skill beyond anyone's expectation.

Elite defenses, ones that the Clippers will most likely face if they get past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs (Sorry, Trailblazers fans), will capitalize on this altered offensive approach if this is indeed the way Griffin has to play.

But something happened in the second half of that same game -- more specifically in the fourth quarter.

Shots started falling, and they weren't from where you would expect given the context above.

He dunked after catching a pass on the run from forward Jeff Green.

He maneuvered through two Mavs defenders, which led to a impressive layup and a subsequent free throw.



After going 2-for-11 from the field in the first half, Griffin bounced back by going 5-for-7 during the remainder of the game.

On top of that he grabbed 11 rebounds and had seven assists to complete a double-double.

There's a silver lining to this particular performance besides the obvious. It's that he gained momentum throughout the course of the game rather than sputtering out early. He played 33 minutes and took 18 shots, which was a significant increase in both categories.

Head Coach Doc Rivers has been most critical of the 27-year-old foward's endurance and conditioning. In that sense, Griffin's recovery is quickly heading in the right direction.

One last point.

It's clear that Blake is nowhere near his potential yet, but the rest of the Clippers squad, particularly their bench, are comfortable with shouldering the extra weight. 

Case in point, the 102-99 overtime victory against the often underestimated Utah Jazz on April 9. 

Starters Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Griffin all sat out.

Center Cole Aldrich scored 21 points with 18 rebounds. Guard Jamal Crawford had 30 points and hit a game-winning three. And let's not forget Clippers critics' favorite subject of mockery.

Guard Austin Rivers may have been responsible for some of the more painful 2015 postseason moments, but his recent play heading into the playoffs should ease many of those concerns.

The 23-year-old is shooting 61 percent (17-28) from beyond the arc in his last ten games. That's a weapon any team would gladly welcome from a backup guard.

Let's be honest. The primary NBA narratives revolve around the Golden State Warrior's pursuit for the all-time best NBA regular season record, Lebron's Cleveland Cavaliers and in Los Angeles, Kobe's farewell.

Don't count out the Clippers just yet though. Their playoff odds may be stacked against them just like any other team in the West not named the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs.

But if recent history is any indication (referring to the 2015 Western Conference first round in which they narrowly defeated the returning champs), they are still a force to be reckoned with.

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