The Blake Griffin 2016 season has entered another phase: resignation. What was supposed to be Griffin returning in February was then pushed back to mid-March, and now all parties agree (quietly and off the record) that April may be the earliest in which Griffin may take the court which will put his absence from basketball north of 100 days.
Although the Clippers are still riding the gritty back of Chris Paul and have kept their head above water at 26-11 without Griffin (not bad without their best low post offensive player), it’s getting late in the day. The teams in front of the Clippers are using these last 15 or so games to iron out the wrinkles, solidify chemistry, get everyone healthy and enter the playoffs strong. Even the Warriors, who have injury issues themselves, are looking to push forward, make history yes, but not at the expense of the team’s identity. The Clippers can’t say the same. They are starting to look weary. Without Griffin, their identity is murky.
It’s natural to confuse one thing with another, to assume the regular season and its long road trips and fatigue inducing plane rides and twelve thirty Sunday afternoon games, bleed into the playoffs. But the holy grail season is different. The playoffs plunk you down in one city. You know everything about the team you are playing against and they know everything about you. Hatred consumes you. Chemistry identifies you.
Without Griffin, or with a Griffin not yet in basketball shape, the Clippers have the short end of the stick. Facing the Warriors in the second round with Blake Griffin having played 10 games in four months is a recipe for disaster.
The facts: Griffin is still rehabbing his quad injury which was supposed to be healed by February. That it still is an issue is a huge red flag. Griffin also has his broken hand to worry about. That is still healing too. He has yet to be cleared for contact and the longer away that day is, the longer it will take Griffin to get into basketball shape. How many minutes can the Clippers count on Griffin when he returns? How will the chemistry be affected?
Doc is aware of the situation but what can he do about it besides have a healthy dose of realism?
“We don’t look at the big picture right now because we’re not good enough to do that with Griffin.”
Everything you hear about Griffin is that he’s close. But he was close last month too, He’s always close. And to be real, that isn’t even the point anymore. Griffin needs on court time with the starters for significant minutes in meaningful games. Is two weeks in April enough to get Griffin’s body and psyche ready?
Despite the Chris Paul heroics this season, the Clippers are not better without Blake. They need him for the playoffs. They need him to create space for shooters. They need his catch and shoot 12-footer. They need his unselfishness. They need his rebounds and slams. They need his floor presence to give Chris Paul a breath. They need his technical fouls. They need defenses isolating on him, freeing up everyone else. They need his chemistry with DJ. They need Blake Griffin because he is a great talent that is a difference maker. Last year in the playoffs, Griffin averaged 25.5 points and 12.7 rebounds a career high. That can’t be replaced. And so there is concern.
Even as the Clippers pretend that normal is just around the corner.
photo via llananba