The Fear of Missing Out
Can you afford to miss a Blake Griffin highlight?
At this stage of his career, Griffin’s not perfect. Nobody would say he is, nor should we expect him to be. As spectacular as he is, Griffin’s only a rookie. He missed all of last season due to a knee injury, and is still learning how to maximize his impact on both ends of the court. He’s not yet the world’s greatest defender (or anywhere close to it), though Vinny Del Negro envisions a day when Griffin’s defensive awareness comes close to his natural athletic ability.
Despite his flaws, I sit down to watch Celtics-Clippers at the TD Garden, and find my eyes glued to Griffin. I don’t want to type while the Clippers have the ball, because I might miss a dunk. I don’t want to sneeze, because my eyes might close a split-second too long. A split-second – that’s all it takes for Griffin to claim his next victim.
Early in the first quarter, Griffin stays mostly quiet. DeAndre Jordan throws down the Clippers’ first dunk, but a couple plays later Griffin cuts back door. He rises into the air, and Williams throws a lob. The ball is rising, and Griffin’s going to meet it, and I’m poised to see my first Griffin dunk live. The crowd begins to murmur, but the murmur is short-lived. The pass was a bad one, and gets knocked away. It somehow finds its way to Jordan’s hands, and he slams it through the hoop. An impressive dunk, yes. But not a Blake Griffin dunk.
A little later in the first quarter, Griffin catches the ball in the post and a Celtics double-team comes quickly. Only a rookie, Griffin already draws that type of attention. And he’s ready for it. He holds the ball without dribbling, patiently waiting for the second defender to leave. Once the double-team has turned to single coverage, Griffin spins around Nenad Krstic, with the light feet of a ballerina (or, the light feet of Ronaldinho). He makes a hook shot on the run, with soft touch that belies his cut-up physique.
Does Griffin’s athleticism overshadow his talented skill set?
“Yeah, but it would with anyone,” said Doc Rivers. “I think if Ray [Allen] was that athletic, you wouldn’t talk about his shooting that much. [Griffin is] that athletic – it’s amazing.”
Indeed, Griffin has well-rounded skills. He can pass with the vision of a point guard, handle the basketball in transition, or demonstrate soft touch which makes him tough to stop even when defenses force him into jumpers. But still, I haven’t seen a Blake Griffin dunk live.
The game continues and the Clippers pull ahead by 23 points, but Griffin has yet to free himself for a signature highlight. The Celtics game-planned specifically to limit Griffin’s aerial show, and they are following their game-plan well. Perhaps to a fault, since Jordan is dunking like the game is one long layup line. Still, no Griffin highlights.
The Celtics come back, cutting L.A.’s lead to three points at one juncture. Griffin’s night has been unforgettable, in a way that reminds you he’s a rookie, while also reminding you, “Damn, Kevin Garnett’s a pretty good defender.” Jordan and Chris Kaman have done the bulk of L.A.’s inside damage; Griffin seems content to play decoy on a night he quote obviously doesn’t have his ‘A’ game.
Just when I think all hope is lost, that I will become one of the few people to see Blake Griffin play live on a night when he does not dunk, Griffin swings a pass to Randy Foye. With 1:35 remaining in the game, Los Angeles leads by nine, closing in on a great win against the Celtics. Griffin runs to set a screen of Foye’s defender. When Foye comes off the pick, Griffin rolls to the hoop. Nenad Krstic hugs his man on the opposite side of the paint, rather than rotating into help position. The table is set for Blake’s dunk; it’s just a matter of whether he wants to make it special.
One minute prior to the pick-and-roll action, one fan behind me left the building. On his way out, he screamed, “Blake Griffin, I want a refund!” The fan was apparently looking for a dunk, too, like everyone in the gym (except, perhaps, Doc Rivers and the Celtics team). Maybe the fan should have stayed just a little longer. Maybe he should have had a little more fear of missing out.
Griffin catches the pass, and Krstic finally rotates over – a day late and a dollar short, as they say. Krstic looks like he ponders contesting the dunk chest-to-chest, but thinks better of the idea. Griffin leaps off of two feet, with the ball in both hands. Sometime after jumping into the air, he decides, “Well, I’d rather dunk this left-handed,” and switches the ball solely into his left hand. He double-clutches, and Krstic is now somewhere far below him, and the rim is drawing near, and Griffin has (finally) dunked in my presence.
He catches the ball out of the rim, quickly glares at Krstic, and nonchalantly tosses a behind-the-back bounce pass past Krstic and out of bounds. A timeout is called, and Jamario Moon comes sprinting off the bench to congratulate his new teammate. Moon’s joyous, overexcited reaction causes Griffin to smile; he leaves his post-dunk glare behind while high-fiving his teammates.
“Even guys that play with him, practice with him every day, they still get excited about it – amazed about it,” said Williams.
We still don’t know if Blake Griffin’s “The One.” We don’t know if he’ll ever become the NBA’s best player. We don’t know whether his future holds MVP trophies, or NBA championships, or Olympic gold medals. We don’t know if he’ll ever reach his basketball ceiling, and, really, we don’t even know what that ceiling is.
All we know is that he moves like them. For now, at least, that’s enough.