Blake Griffin struggles to sustain dominance throughout games.
In addition, no center plays more than Blake Griffin and only four power forwards log more minutes than the 6-10 Clipper. Of those four power forwards who are slightly ahead of Griffin in minutes played, only Amar’e Stoudemire comes close to playing such a physically taxing game. The others, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jeff Green and Pau Gasol are more finesse players, so they can afford to log more minutes (Gasol being the most physical, but still a lot less than Griffin and Stoudemire).
Finally, all minutes are not created equal. Because of Griffin’s aggressive play, he attempts 8.4 free-throws per game, ranking seventh in the League in trips to the charity stripe. Oftentimes, opponents foul violently in order to avoid appearing on the latest Blake Griffin poster or worse…the most recent viral video. A Blake jam is more than just two points against one’s team; it is commonly taken as a blow to one’s pride, though it need not be. Getting dunked on by Griffin has become exceedingly difficult to avoid. But anyway, such hard fouls incurred at great regularity, really take a toll on Griffin and can partially explain why his offensive numbers decline over the course of a game.
Thankfully for Blake Griffin and the Clippers, there’s another star player on the team: Eric Gordon, who turned 22 this past Christmas, carries a sizable portion of the Clips’ scoring load at a clip of 23.5 per game. The undersized two-guard out of Indiana was good last season, but he really came of age during the 2010 FIBA World Championships. Gordon (a.k.a. EJ), a notoriously slow starter, happens to perform the best when the rest of his team struggles most. Seemingly the antithesis of Griffin, Gordon’s shooting percentage actually skyrockets in the fourth quarter compared to earlier in the game.
The difference between the Clippers’ two stars can be further illustrated by examining their point per minute output by quarter, side by side. Below we see that their respective scoring paths take nearly opposite trajectories. Unlike Griffin, who performs best early on, Gordon’s output increases steadily as the game progresses.
Griffin and Gordon score a combined 46.4 percent of their team’s points, yet they have only lived on this planet for a combined 43 years. And we saw above that in the quarters where one struggles (relatively speaking, of course), the other more than picks up the slack. In this sense, the two are a perfect tandem, complementing each other like few other teammates in this league. But, as we all know, basketball is not only played with two players.
Though Eric Gordon performs spectacularly at the end of games, it doesn’t make up for the fact that every single one of the Clippers’ top six scorers after Griffin and Gordon sees his shooting percentage take a precipitous dive in the fourth quarter compared to the rest of the game. When this is taken into consideration, it is no wonder why the Clippers have already blown five third quarter leads in this young season. On top of that, they have already failed to hold on to three halftime leads to the comeback happy Utah Jazz, let slip a six-point advantage going into the fourth quarter against the in-house rival Lakers, and managed to turn an 11-point halftime lead into a nine-point loss to the high-flying Hawks.
To conclude, we are in no way, shape, or form, blaming Blake Griffin for the Clippers’ early struggles. First of all, the Clippers are still owned by inept Donald Sterling. Secondly (and related to the first reason), the team possesses a history and culture of losing. With time, they can turn it around, but for so many years the “other Staples Center inhabitants” as they’ve come to be known, have seemingly accepted losing as natural. Well, Blake Griffin has started to change this mindset. This guy wants to win badly. Every single fourth quarter meltdown eats away at Griffin, who was visibly upset after their one-point loss to the Lakers, for example.
While our statistics show that Griffin’s offensive output sharply declines after the first quarter, this team would be nowhere without him. Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon are essentially the gas that fuels this team. Rookies Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu have shown flashes of potential, but they are especially prone to mistakes due to inexperience. Baron Davis is a shell of his former self despite the fact that he can still connect on the alley-oop (though it’s not too hard when high-flyers Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are the recipients). Chris Kaman is always injured, and Rasual Butler and Ryan Gomes are extremely inconsistent.
What we are saying is that there is an extraordinary amount of pressure placed on these two players (Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon), who are 21 and 22 years old, respectively. While it is true that Blake Griffin needs to find a way to parlay his strong offense into the second half, he is merely a rookie and it’s not completely fair to set expectations that are through the roof…even if he seems to touch the Staples Center roof multiple times every home game.