Blake Griffin Healthy and Excited About Young, Hungry Clippers
The Clippers rookie forward is a steady communicator -- polite and well-spoken, but far from dynamic. So when he said before Thursday's win over the Kings at Arco Arena that he was ecstatic to be playing again after a stress fracture in his left kneecap kept him out all of last season, you simply had to trust he was telling the truth.
"I'm definitely more excited (now), and I was extremely excited last year," Griffin had said so stoically. "Sitting out has made me extremely hungry. It makes you realize how much you love the game and how much you miss it."
No need to talk about it when simply doing it is so much easier, though. And Griffin made it look remarkably easy in the Clippers' 120-88 rout of the Kings.
He tallied 18 points and 13 rebounds, with his combination of athleticism, high-energy motor and versatile skillset prompting proclamations from onlookers that he was far and away the Rookie of the Year frontrunner. It's certainly too early for those kinds of predictions, but no one struggled to rave about Griffin afterward -- even if he remained his mellow self.
"He looked good man," said a smiling Baron Davis, the Clippers point guard who was part of the viewing audience as he sat out with a sore knee and strained calf. "He's just a difference maker. His energy and his level of intensity the way he plays, he's a game-changer."
Dare we say, special, Davis was asked?
"Very special," Davis quickly answered. "Very special. Like superhero special."
The Clippers are certainly ready to be rescued, especially after a summer in which they thought at least one Superfriend might come their way. They were involved in the courting of LeBron James, the then-free agent who invited them to his round of recruiting but ultimately signed with Miami. They have been on the periphery of the ongoing Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes as well, with the Denver small forward believed to be open to the idea of jumping on board via trade and signing an extension that would keep him in Los Angeles, but no deal is to be had there at the moment either.
Their splashy offseason acquisitions, in the end, were the hiring of former Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro, the signing of free agents Ryan Gomes (sixth-year small forward) and Randy Foye (fifth-year guard) and the drafting of small forward Al-Farouq Aminu out of Wake Forest. But it's Griffin with the 'S' on his chest for now, and he looked worthy of that billing against the Kings.
While his perfect outing from the field was impressive (he shot 7 for 7), it was his superior physicality that dropped more than a few jaws. He dominated the glass against a Kings frontline that -- even without injured center Samuel Dalembert -- expects to be much-improved in that area. Still, it took DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry a combined 72 minutes to match Griffin's rebounding total (13) that was compiled in just 23 minutes.
Griffin said the good news is he's not alone in the effort department. While he knew the Clippers were talented -- with Davis always a threat, shooting guard Eric Gordon still on the rise and center Chris Kaman coming off his first All-Star season -- he has been pleased to learn that they will be hardworking too.
And while it will be quite a stretch to expect a rare Clippers playoff appearance after they won just 29 games last season, Griffin is confident they will compete.
"I think we can be very competitive," said Griffin, who had nine points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes in a 115-86 loss to Portland Tuesday that was his preseason debut. "We have the tools, with Eric Gordon, Baron Davis, and obviously Chris. We have a talented group. This last week of training camp has shown me that we're going to play hard. ... It's going to take a while, but I really like the fact that we play hard."
That includes Davis, the veteran who has certainly been accused of coasting from time to time.
"I'm 110 (percent) right now," he said when asked about his level of excitement to play with this group. "You can ask all the players right now. I'm up shouting, talking. We've got a real talented group of kids. They love the game. They're working hard. And for me being the older guy on the team it makes me feel younger, makes me want to go out and work just as hard as they work."
The Clippers play again Friday night at Golden State, and will kickstart their regular season at home against Portland on Oct. 27.
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