There is a shortlist of players that entered the NBA highly decorated and hit the ground running. From the moment they touched the hardwood they began to excite the crowd and became an instant household name. Put together highlight after highlight that ran on all over every major sports channel. Put up eye popping stats that made them an immediate NBA All-Star. Left lifelong memories from their performance during All-Star Saturday Night that made them an instant pitch man. Although injuries have grounded this once budding star, I still have him on my list of must see players and that’s what peaked my interest. With an unexpected mid-season trade and a trip that was planned three months before tip-off created the perfect set of circumstances for this to happen.
Upon arriving to the game, I was under the impression that Blake Griffin was still a fan favorite around the NBA. That was immediately proven inaccurate as he was booed immediately by the Philips Arena crowd as soon as he hit the floor for warm-ups. The crowd was on him every time he touched the ball during warm-ups and especially when his name was called during pregame announcements. It was quite shocking because he is not known as a super villain around the league but for some reason he is not well liked. I found this situation rather interesting while sitting in the crowd and it was something that I payed a lot of attention to during the game.
The game started off with a foul within the first 10 seconds by the Hawks. This was the beginning of a back and forth first quarter that saw each team trade baskets for the entire quarter. Neither team took command or made a push to separate themselves from each other. The man of the hour Blake Griffin was having trouble finding his shot in the first quarter although he shot 3 for 6. There were some close attempts that you expected him to make that he missed. Although he was searching for his shot, he was perfectly working the two man game with Andre Drummond during the first. While the two of them scored 13 of the teams 23 points, they couldn’t help the Pistons take control as they continued to trail the Hawks.
During the second quarter, Blake missed all four of his shot attempts and never found a rhythm offensively. He was able to secure some rebounds and receive a technical foul for a hilarious missed pass to the official that went off the head of Dennis Schröder. Other than these events by Blake Griffin during the second quarter he was nonexistent. The second quarter was ran by the Pistons role players as they helped the Piston claw back against the Hawks and take a one point lead into halftime. Reggie Bullock, Anthony Tolliver, Jameer Nelson and James Ennis III lead the way and worked effectively around Andre Drummond to helped slow down the Hawks.
The third quarter was more of the same for Blake Griffin as he missed all five of his shot attempts. Unlike the second quarter, Blake was able to make an impact on the scoreboard during the third as he made four free throws and tallied four assists. The Pistons continued to struggle with Blake on the floor during the third as they allowed the Hawks to retake the lead. The players that were the most effective during the third were the four horsemen that sparked the offense during the second quarter. Bullock, Tolliver, Nelson and Ennis III combined for 14 of the teams 24 third quarter points. Stan Van Gundy did not rely on this lineup a lot during the earlier parts of the game as he worked to get Blake a rhythm but seemed to rely on them as the game played on.
The closing quarter brought out a sense of urgency for Blake Griffin as he found his offensive rhythm and scored 12 points while shooting 4 of 6 from the floor. Although Blake found his offense during the fourth, the team seemed to struggle with him on the floor. The Pistons were on a run and regained the lead with Tolliver, Nelson and Ennis III running he show but seemed to lose their edge once Griffin returned. All while Griffin was finding his way, Andre Drummond was consistently putting up points and grabbing every rebound available. It was difficult to put together what was holding them back from working effectively on the floor together but will be something interesting to watch going forward.
Blake put together a solid game statistically but once you look deeper into his number of 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists you can see some things that negatively stand out. He shot 7 for 21 from the field and 3 for 10 from three. I personally have never known Blake Griffin to be a great three point shooter so to see him shoot 10 threw me off. As an avid follower of UConn Men’s Basketball, I was amazed by the game of Andre Drummond who put together a 25 point and 15 rebound game. I can see some hope for the future with Blake and Andre but as of now it does not seem like it will come together this season.
After witnessing Blake Griffin in person for the first time, I can say that I can see where the excitement came from that once followed him around the league. Also, I can see why the villain role has been placed on him as he is constantly booed at arenas around the NBA. He is a very complex basketball player the still has a lot of the old school game and is working to reinvent himself to fit in today’s game. I do not know how viable he will be as a stretch four but if he wants to maintain in this league he will have to strengthen that part of his game as his athleticism wanes and skills take over. The man known as “Air Griffin” may be gone forever but the honor of seeing Blake Griffin the player is still one that I will remember.