Blake Griffin had a tough outing against the Suns on Friday, and had to earn every single one of his 17 points and seven rebounds. Those numbers had little impact on the game, however, and his 4-of-14 shooting through three quarters were a true indication of just how much of a struggle it was for him on this night offensively.
Griffin’s issues can be attributed (at least in part) to the defensive game plan the Suns put together, along with the effort of Channing Frye, who made sure to stay between Griffin and the rim all night long while bothering him with his 6’11” frame.
Defensive ability aside, Frye’s physicality might have bothered Griffin even more — not because Griffin can’t handle it, of course. But mainly, because at many times, what Frye was doing appeared to be excessive, and deserving of a whistle from the officials.
From the first possession on, the physicality was noticeable. Put simply, Frye was allowed to push, grab, and hold Griffin more than what is normally considered to be acceptable. Now, the officiating crew was largely lax with the whistles on both sides all game long, but the fact remains that the Suns slowed Griffin by basically checking him when he got close to the rim, pushing him out when he tried to gain low block position, and making sure that contact was made whenever a shot was attempted.
Frye played over 35 minutes, and picked up just four personal fouls; Griffin shot just five free throws, and one of those came just before the final buzzer sounded. On one occasion, Frye literally grabbed Griffin around the neck from behind to stop him from shooting after he had established deep inside position.
No flagrant foul was called; apparently, it was just a run-of-the-mill foul. Two free throws were given, but no apologies.
This is one way to slow Blake Griffin and the Clippers, but it requires the complicity of the referees — which Friday night’s crew seemed more than happy to provide. It seems, though, as if this is becoming the norm around the league. Griffin is such a physical presence that referees are having trouble officiating him properly — or, at the very least, they are letting defenders regularly get away with murder to try to even Griffin’s genetic advantage.
And Griffin has noticed.
“Yeah, for sure,” was Griffin’s nodding response, when I asked him if teams were being allowed to play a little extra-physical against him defensively. “For sure. Guys are allowed to really bang against me, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
It obviously worked Friday in Phoenix. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro didn’t seem to think it was an issue at all, and intimated that Blake (and the rest of the Clippers’ front line) preferred the physical way.
“Nah, Blake likes that,” he said. “They’re going to take the punishment more than Blake. He likes the physical contact, and with Kenyon, Reggie, and DJ up front that’s fine for us.”
Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, and DeAndre Jordan are all fine, physical, front-line players. But none are relied upon offensively as much as Griffin is, so the physicality badge that Del Negro seems to want his team to wear with honor really only affects Griffin on that end of the floor.
Besides, Griffin said, Del Negro is only partially correct. Blake only likes the physical play up to a certain point.
“Yeah, I mean, I like physical play, but sometimes it’s a little more than others,” he said. “And sometimes it goes from being physical to really kind of doing more damage than just bumping and stuff like that. But that’s on me, I’ve still got to play through that — everybody gets bumped, everybody gets fouled. I’ve got to do a better job of finishing plays and making shots.”
Griffin isn’t making any excuses, so we won’t either. But it’s clear that he feels he’s treated differently than others when it comes to the way teams are allowed to defend him physically. He may just have a point.