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So instead Griffin spends what should have been his rookie year wearing suits and frowning and doing endless rehab work in the pool. Everywhere he goes, he carries a pink Dora the Explorer backpack (rookie hazing rules still apply, after all). Looking back, he says he learned a lot, that he got an NBA education from the sideline, but Taylor knows how hard it was. "For a guy like Blake who is so intense, it was torture," Taylor says. "That's part of why you see him out there trying to prove himself on every play this season. He's been saving all that up."
Victim #269: DeAndre Jordan, fall 2010
It's a training camp practice and Jordan, a Clippers center, is going up for a rebound when he senses impending doom. "Somebody don't box Blake out, and all of a sudden it feels like someone is on my back and—ba-roooom!" Jordan says, pausing. "Then I look up, and it's Blake looking back at me, and I'm like, Damn. " The tip-dunk is impressive for two reasons. First, Jordan is 6'11", has arms like windmill spokes and jumps nearly as high as Griffin. Second, it signals that Griffin is fully back. In fact, some people, including Clippers assistant Marc Iavaroni, think he's actually jumping higher.
Victims #299 and #300: Timofey Mozgov and Danilo Gallinari, Nov. 20, 2010
If there is an official start to Griffinmania, a point at which his deeds morph from human to mythological, when young men start thinking about getting his face tattooed on their torsos and the editors at SLAM magazine consider devoting the next 47 covers to Griffin, at which he goes positively viral, it is on this night against the Knicks. You've no doubt seen the highlights by now (and if not, do yourself a favor and get to it). The slam over Mozgov is the more preposterous of the two, Griffin launching himself off the 7'1" Russian's forehead before throwing the ball down at the rim from a height roughly equal to the mezzanine of Staples Center. It is so emphatic, so emasculating, that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni is only half-joking when he beseeches the media, "Don't say anything to him." The coach says of his reserve center, "Just keep it quiet."
The Gallinari dunk is the more telling, though, for not only does Griffin display his leaping ability and power, but he also includes a beautiful spin move in transition, at full speed, that likely no other big man in the league could execute. This, Griffin says, is his favorite dunk ever, and plenty of folks—including Taylor and Iavaroni—agree. After the game, Amar'e Stoudemire, a man who knows from dunking, weighs in. "That," he says, "was actually incredible." The fact that Griffin scored 44 points in the game is, remarkably, an afterthought.
It is a warm January evening in Los Angeles, and the Clippers are hosting the Timberwolves. Once upon a time—like, say, last year—this matchup would have been roughly as exciting as a city council meeting. Now, however, 17,793 have come out on a Wednesday night to see two lottery teams. Or, more precisely, to see the Blake Show.
An hour and a half before game time Griffin provides quite a contrast to his teammates, many of whom proceed half speed through shooting drills, joking and laughing. Griffin, however, is already dripping sweat as he moves in a semicircle around the basket, shooting jumpers. Every time he misses, which is relatively often, he mutters under his breath, and the more he misses the angrier he gets. In most any other facet of the game Griffin can succeed by trying harder than anyone else, but this doesn't apply to jump shots (or free throws, where Griffin is shooting a Shaq-like 61.5%). So he shoots and he swears.
Once the game starts, he deploys this intensity squarely into the lower half of Minnesota's Kevin Love, who leads the league in rebounding, at 15.6 per game. Griffin grabs Love's jersey, wraps his arms around his back, gets low and digs into his legs. Watching the two battle for position, pushing and grappling, is at times more entertaining than the game itself. And this is part of what makes Griffin so dangerous, so much more than a dunking machine: He doesn't need the ball to score. According to Synergy Sports, 43.6% of his attempts in the half-court offense come from what are categorized as "Around Basket (Not Post Ups)," which is another way of saying hustle plays, cuts to the basket, alley-oops and putbacks. What's more, he's extremely efficient in this realm, averaging 1.292 points per possession. Hence the sumo wrestling with Love. "It's really an art form, the way he uses his body and his craftiness," Love says. "I always talk about using my leverage, but I can't jump like him. He uses both of those [skills]."