Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Lesson in Rising: Griffin's Jam More Than Just a Dunk

I don't think it's a coincidence that President Obama announced he would start scaling back NASA's space travel around the same time Blake Griffin entered the NBA.

The Clippers second year forward is flying places humans have never been.  There is simply no longer a need to fund expensive rockets when one human can explore the great unknown by himself.  Monday, against the Thunder, was Griffin's latest, most exciting mission into space.

But, before I analyze what is already being labeled the 'Dunk of the Year,' let's recap how we got here.

The Clippers are historically one of the worst franchises not just in the NBA, but in all of sports. They play in the same city (and stadium) as the Lakers, who are arguably the most popular franchise in basketball. Michael Olowokandi, anyone?  Their owner, Donald Sterling, is nuts, and maybe the best player in team history is nicknamed after a Bowel Movement.  It's been crappy to be a Clippers fan, pardon the pun.

But, ever since Blake Griffin threw on that red, white, and blue jersey and set foot on the Staples Center floor, there has been a different feeling surrounding the franchise.  He has become a mainstay on ESPN's Top Ten highlights.  He has a contagious personality.  And most importantly, he is focused on winning.  He is the model player to be the face of a franchise.

Griffin's success and talent helped recruit another elite, young player this off season, Chris Paul.  Two years ago, the thought of maybe the NBA's best point guard moving to Los Angeles to play for a team not named the Lakers would you been absurd.  If you would have offered up that suggestion, the basketball world would have had you thrown into the same halfway house that *NSYNC called home in the "I Drive Myself Crazy" video. (You're welcome for the reference Joey Fatone fans everywhere).

The Clippers have never been a sexy franchise.  There was little alluring about joining the team for free agents.  Blake Griffin has changed that stigma and made the Paper Clips Sofia Vergara-esque.

Enter, Monday night.

Chris Paul, who as previously mentioned is now a Clipper in part because of Griffin (and David Stern....), was running a pick-and-roll.  The threat CP3 poses helped to draw three Thunder defenders to the top of the key.  Paul, like a surgeon, threaded the needle between the OKC defense with a perfect bounce pass to Griffin who set the initial pick.  Because of the attention to Paul, Blake was looking at an open lane with just Kendrick Perkins between he and the basket, and so begins the fun.

As Griffin gets the ball, he doesn't even really make a move toward the basket, he takes two steps to position himself and then just rises.  AND I MEAN RISES.

Kendrick Perkins isn't a leaper, but he is built like a mountain, almost immovable.  Griffin knew this and went all 'Price is Right' on Perk and instead of going through the mountain, went over the top and threw the ball down so violently at the basket you would have thought that little orange rim stole $20 from Griffin, married his sister, cheated on her, and then stole Blake's girlfriend.  There was anger in that jam.  Utterly violent.

Griffin was in the air so long, not only did he jump before Perkins, but he was still rising as Perkins came down to the floor.  That type of elevation defies logic.

The reactions following the dunk are as epic as the dunk.

The second Neil Armstrong Griffin comes back down from space, DeAndre Jordan runs over and grabs Blake as if he needed to be held down from an exorcism, just holding him until the demon that just abused Perkins could fully leave Griffin's soul.  Blake rips off Jordan as though it can't.

And then there is a man in a blue shirt sitting baseline behind the basket who puts his hand over his mouth and looks up to the heavens.  No sir, you are not dreaming.  You did in fact just see something mythical.  A man just flew right before your eyes.

Then the camera pans over to Perkins. His face is priceless.

As he lines up on the free throw line (oh yea, the dunk was an And 1, just to make things worse) he has a look of pure bewilderment.  "What just happened? Why did that happen? Where am I?"  And then you hear the crowd's reaction when they see the replay on the jumbotron and Perkins' bottom lip gets a little stiff and you can see he wants to let out a grown man cry.  He knows his career highlight reel now starts with him getting victimized.

And you know what? Perk has no one to blame but himself.  Do some research.  Blake's dunk on Timothy Mazgov last season came on a very similar play and Perkins himself knows the pure embarrassment of letting someone go Jimmy Hendrix on you to "Kiss the Sky," when D-Wade put him in a Purple Haze in Miami.  I know defense is important.  But so too is your self worth, and if Perkins keeps letting guys boom on him like this, he is going to have to get some voice lessons and try to turn poverty into wealth in other ways.

Yet, Monday's classic jam was all about Griffin.   His dunk is a microcosm of what he means to the Clippers organization.

He is the reason an annually pathetic team is not just watchable, but competitive.  The man who set up the dunk was recruited to the Clippers because of Blake and the fact that the Clips ended up winning the game, against the team with the best record in the league, is another example of the rise, both literally and figuratively, of the Clippers and Blake Griffin.

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