The Evolution Of Blake Griffin

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For the first time in franchise history, the Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) can advance to the Western Conference Finals with a win over the Houston Rockets (56-26) on Tuesday night.

The Clippers have pulled ahead 3-1 in their second-round series, led by All-Star Blake Griffin, who is averaging 25.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and six assists.

That production comes after what Griffin did in the first round against the San Antonio Spurs (55-27), when he averaged an impressive line of 24.1 points, 13.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists.

Los Angeles needed every bit of Griffin’s stellar play to survive the first round in a tightly contested seven-game series.

“When you play a team like the Spurs … and come out like that, it kind of gives you that feeling of accomplishment,” Griffin said after his team’s Game 4 win over the Rockets.  “Being down 2-1 early on the road, winning two games at their place, it just kind of gives you confidence as a team.”

Primarily known for his athletic, thunderous dunks, Griffin has grown into arguably the NBA’s best player through the postseason.

“I think every year you just kind of learn a little bit more,” Griffin said. “Every year you kind of figure out something new.”

Griffin’s scoring was there last postseason (23.5 points a night), when the Clippers got past the Golden State Warriors before falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games. However, his rebounding (7.4) and assists (3.8) were simply adequate.

Coach Doc Rivers won’t take credit for Griffin’s recent leap.

“Well, it’s not me, I can tell you that,” Rivers said. “It’s just him.”

The Clippers have asked Griffin to do more than just bully his way to the basket; the sixth-year forward has accepted the challenge.

“We’ve asked him to do certain things, be a better elbow player,” Rivers said.  “That means passing, shooting and handling the ball, and he’s done that. We ask him to face the basket more instead of turning your back on the basket on the post. I think that’s the area to me that he’s made his biggest improvement”

Scoring comes naturally to Griffin, but then so does play-making.  Rivers noted recently he was shocked when he first saw the Oklahoma forward up close at the start of last season.  He marvels at Griffin’s work ethic.

“[It is] very difficult to guard him when he faces up to you right off the block because you can’t put your hands on him, and with his first step and his quickness and his ability to see the floor,” Rivers said. “But you guys don’t see it, the hours that he puts into it is what he’s done.”

Griffin and the Clippers seem likely to finish off the Rockets.  If so, the next series will be an even greater challenge against the Memphis Grizzlies or Warriors.

They’ll need Griffin to continue his stellar play, all while holding his temper at the hard fouls to come.

“My entire career everybody says I need to punch somebody. I never have. The playoffs isn’t any different,” Griffin said.  “I’m definitely not going to do something like that. Hard fouls are a part of playoff basketball, and I think that’s how basketball should be.

“I don’t take those fouls personally. My job is to go hit some free throws. We have to keep in mind what the bigger picture is, and that’s ultimately winning.”