I don’t know if I’ve ever exactly forgotten about Blake Griffin, but certainly the time spent last season toiling away on irrelevant Clippers and Pistons squads didn’t help restore any of the prestige lost during three seasons spent mostly in injury hell. It seems like whole eras have passed since Griffin was the next big thing, to the point where he is now mostly thought of as a bad idea Stan Van Gundy never should’ve been allowed to execute.
He’s not the same guy. Five years ago, Blake Griffin was the most feared dunker in the world. Now he’s mostly earthbound, an uneven finisher who gets dunks punched away by the likes of Jarrett Allen. So the highlights aren’t what they used to be, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t highlights. Tuesday night, Griffin more or less carried the undefeated Pistons to a gutsy home win over flopping-ass Joel Embiid and the 76ers, not by throwing down a series of vicious dunks—those days are long gone—but by playing like a gigantic, LeBron-esque point guard and all-court offensive dynamo:
This got more fun as the game went along. Early in the first half Blake was eating up Dario Saric and Amir Johnson on the low block, with balletic footwork and muscular finishes at the rim. But as the second quarter progressed, Griffin got more and more comfortable attacking off the dribble and operating like a guard. At about the 6:30 mark he beat Bob Covington—a tough-as-hell perimeter defender—with a slick behind-the-back dribble followed by a spin into the lane; on the next Pistons possession, following an Embiid layup, Griffin hurried the ball back into play, then trailed Ish Smith and walked into a rhythm three from the top of the key. It was the first of five treys Griffin hit on the night, and it sent him off to the races—a minute later he sauntered into another three from the wing, then used a nifty on-the-go ball-fake to stuff it right in Embiid’s mug. Griffin had 22 points in the second quarter alone.
By the end of the third quarter the Pistons weren’t even bothering to have Ish Smith or Reggie Jackson bring the ball up the floor, electing instead to use Griffin as a dump truck-sized lead guard. Griffin attempted a truly absurd 35 shots in the game, but check out this sparkling distribution:
When Griffin was first diversifying his offensive game, back in the late Lob City days, his go-to jumper was the pick-and-pop long-two, from the elbows or beyond. Tuesday night, at least, Griffin turned the vast majority of those long-twos into above-the-break threes, and produced a downright James Harden-ian shot chart, featuring 18 shots at the rim and 10 shots from downtown. If you can’t smash on dudes at will, the next best thing you can be is exactly this sort of player, who divides his shots up between knifing drives, brutal backdowns, and rhythm three-pointers.
It was a hell of a performance, and it ended on the best possible note. With his Pistons down two in overtime, Griffin received an after-time-out inbounds pass beyond the arc, where Embiid had no choice but to guard him closely. Griffin faked a handoff to a sprinting Reggie Bullock, then darted into the space opened up by Philly’s reacting defenders, drove hard to the cup, and finished through contact for the game-winning and-one. The bucket gave Griffin a career-high 50 points.
The Pistons are now 3–0, and Griffin is averaging 36 points on outrageous 62 percent True Shooting. Probably none of this will last, but it’s an encouraging reminder of all the beautiful shit other than dunking a healthy Blake Griffin can do on a basketball court.