Blake Griffin is a walking highlight factory. And not just for his dunks anymore, people are figuring out he can play the game.
Eric Gordon has become the outside to Griffin’s inside for the Clippers. He’s the guy knocking down key threes — just like he did for Team USA when they were winning the gold at the FIBA World Championships. He is big time.
They are the face of the Clippers resurgence and return to relevance. They are the national media darlings.
But two other Clippers deserve to be mentioned as a central of what is going on — center DeAndre Jordan and guard Baron Davis. Without them, Gordon and Griffin would be the stars of a team still losing nightly, not winning 10 of 14.
For the first half of last season, center Chris Kaman was the guy the Clippers ran their offense through (and he rode that to the All-Star Game). Jordan was his amazingly athletic but wildly inconsistent backup.
With Kaman out this season due to a severely sprained ankle, Jordan has been thrust into the starting lineup — and he has developed into a defensive force. After the Clippers beat the Heat recently, Miami coach Eric Spoelstra as well as several players continually used Jordan’s name next to Griffin’s, saying the Clippers had the most athletic front line in the league and it was hard to deal with. Phil Jackson singled Jordan out as the reason the Clippers were playing so well when those two teams met last Sunday.
The Clippers players have seen the growth in Jordan also, as they told the Los Angeles Times.
“Oh man, [Jordan] is the reason why we’ve been such a hot team,” Davis said. “A lot of the things he’s able to do on the defensive end allows us to be a great defensive team. That 41%, our field-goal percentage, that credit goes to him. He’s our anchor.
“For a young guy, 22 years old, to be able to be back there and anchor that defense, it is amazing to see his growth and his progress. Just that confidence we have in him.”
Davis himself is the other key.
Everybody has known Davis can flat out ball. Everyone remembers when he led the Golden State Warriors to a first-round upset of the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. Everyone remembers the streaks of brilliance through his career.
But those streaks have been surrounded by much longer stretches of disappointment, particularly in recent years. Questions of motivation and conditioning — which has led to a long string of injuries — had turned Davis into a non-factor in Los Angeles. One that owner Donald Sterling loved to taunt from the front row.
Those things have changed. Right now, Davis passes the eyeball test — when talking to him with other media after a recent Clippers game my initial thought was I couldn’t remember the last time he looked this thin. He is fit right now as he worked out while down with an injury earlier in the year (he also said he started getting in shape for the season earlier than his traditional August start date, realizing his body is getting older).
And he is motivated. Credit the energy Griffin and Gordon bring to the team, credit Davis’ maturity, credit Zeus, it doesn’t matter. The fact is Davis is motivated and giving the Clippers fantastic point guard play. Gone are the pull-up three pointers with 18 seconds left on the clock and the pounding out the clock dribbling with nothing happening. Right now he is driving into the lane, creating, setting up teammates.
In his last 10 games Davis is averaging 14.6 points on 45.7 percent shooting, plus 8.4 dimes per game. He is again a guy that must be accounted for in game planning. He is again disruptive, and that is opening up lanes for Griffin to dunk.
The next months will be the real test for the Clippers — their friendly schedule (they have not left California in nearly a month) will end when they have to head out on the road for 11 straight on the annual Grammys road trip. Teams are not looking past them any more — if for no other reason than they don’t want to end up in a Griffin SportsCenter highlight.
But those teams better watch out for Jordan and Davis, too. They are helping drive this train.