Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Blake Griffin can pass the ball, too

Associated Press
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Monday night saw a busy slate around the NBA, and you probably didn’t have time to take it all in because you were decorating your Christmas tree. Or watching the Dolphins. Or re-reading Brave New World. Or discussing how Rajon Rondo got off light. Whatever the reason, we’ve got you covered, so here are five things to know from an NBA Monday, starting with a note from Dan Feldman, who was at the Clippers’ win over the Pistons in Detroit.

1) Blake Griffin’s passing — not just the 34 points — gets Clippers win. Stan Van Gundy called Blake Griffin “easily” the best-passing true big* in the NBA before last night’s Clippers-Pistons game.

Detroit learned the hard way Van Gundy was right.

Griffin had 34 points and seven assists, including on Clippers’ two biggest baskets, in their 105-103 overtime win.

Down three late in regulation, Griffin drove and kicked to J.J. Redick for the game-tying 3-pointer:

Then — when Andre Drummond made what he called an “instinct” play to double Griffin in the high post, even though Van Gundy emphasized Griffin’s willingness to pass out of double-teams — Griffin found an open Jamal Crawford for the game-winner:

“People look at the power and the speed and the dunks, and they miss the best part of his game,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Griffin. “And that’s his passing.”

*The “true big” designation, to Van Gundy, eliminates Warriors power forward Draymond Green from the discussion. Green spends more time on the perimeter and less time with his back to the basket.
—Dan Feldman

2) Just when you think maybe Houston is turning it around… Houston had won 7-of-10 coming into Monday night, but those came against a soft part of the schedule, so one had to wonder if the turnaround was for real. This loss to Denver on the road 114-108 was the kind of sloppy, effortless loss that makes you think the problems are all still there. Houston made runs (they led by 10 at one point) thanks to nailing 18 threes, but their disinterested defense all night led to bigger Denver runs. Ty Lawson pretty much should just have a red cape in his hands to waive like a Matador as ball handlers blow by him. Another sign of Houston’s effort issue is Denver won the rebounding battle 52-26. Dwight Howard wants the ball in the post but can’t do much with it anymore. I could go on but you get the point, Houston still has a lot of questions to answer.

3) Will Barton threw down a big dunk, then later threw a shoe. Denver’s Will Barton has had a big season — he has a PER of 19 while nobody was looking — and he had a big Monday against the Rockets. First, there was this dunk.

Then Barton got a technical foul for throwing Trevor Ariza‘s shoe (I didn’t know this was a technical foul now, Dwyane Wade and Jarrett Jack have done it before without punishment).

4) The Spurs are quietly putting up a Warriors-like point differential. The Spurs crushed the Rudy Gobert-less Jazz 118-81 Monday night, lifting their season point differential to +13.2 per game (how much they outscore opponents by). The Warriors are just 13.1. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN had a great stat about it.

If you use net rating — how much a team outscores opponents by on a points per 100 possessions basis — the Warriors are at 14.8 on the season and the Spurs at 13.9 (stats via NBA.com). Either way, while everyone is rightfully marveling at the Warriors start, the Spurs are quietly just about as good. These are clear and away the two best teams in the NBA right now.

5) Goran Dragic gets elbowed in the face, loses a tooth, gets called for the foul. How exactly is this on Dragic? Al Horford is near the top of the key with the ball, swings his elbows through to create a space and start so he can start his move, and catches Dragic in the face as the guard is just in good defensive position. Dragic dropped to the ground quickly, and later they picked up part of his tooth off the court.

The foul call was on Dragic.