We haven't shown you a ton a Blake Griffin dunks so far this season, which seems kind of weird. It's not like he hasn't been dunking so much — CBSSports.com's "Dunk-O-Meter," a finely tuned tool created for the express purpose of tracking NBA players' slams, has the Los Angeles Clippers power forward at 62 stuffs for the year, second in the league to JaVale McGee of the Denver Nuggets. And it's not like they haven't been cool — this recent blow-by-and-reverse-slam on defender Ersan Ilyasova was pretty rad, and Blake's been making moves like that pretty regularly.
Maybe we're just a little burned out by the 23-year-old's athleticism at this point — like, we know he can beat most defenders off the bounce with his quickness and face-up handle, leap tall buildings in a single bound and get to pretty much any alley-oop his Clipper teammates can toss him. Why keep harping on it?
Oh, right: Because plays like the off-the-backboard alley-oop that Matt Barnes put up for a one-handed Griffin Tomahawk in the closing minute of the Clippers' 88-76 win over the Detroit Pistons are still really, really cool to watch.
After the game, Barnes offered a pretty succinct explanation of what he was thinking when he realized he was out in front of Griffin alone on the break. From The Associated Press:
"When I saw that it was just the two of us, I told him to keep coming," Barnes joked. "I figured a lot more people wanted to see Blake dunk than wanted to see me lay one in."
Well read, Matt. Good job by you.
Hit the jump for another Griffin smash from the fourth quarter of Monday night's win — unless you are, or are related to, Detroit forward Kyle Singler. In that case, please feel free to keep moving, with our compliments.
Highlight-reels blocks and dunks aside, Griffin's production was fairly pedestrian — 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block in 28-plus minutes. The same was largely true for the rest of the Clippers, who seemed a bit off-target most of the night as they played their fourth road game in seven nights, missing 17 of their 22 attempts from long range and letting the woeful 7-20 Pistons hang around to enter the fourth quarter trailing just 63-60. But with the game in the balance, the Clips put the clamps on Detroit, holding them to just five points over the final 4:45 of the fourth quarter to salt away their 10th straight win.
Eric Patten at Clippers.com has more on that late defensive stand:
"We had to turn up our defense," Barnes said. "We knew that if you give a team at home confidence it can come back and bite you, so we knew we had to turn our defense up the last 5:00 and get key stops, get key rebounds and get out in transition and score."
With the Pistons in possession and the Clippers clinging to a five-point lead, Jamal Crawford swiped a ball in the passing lane and threw it over the top for a Barnes dunk that took about three seconds from start to finish. On the next trip down the floor, Lamar Odom found Barnes cutting to the rim for a layup. The two plays came immediately following a timeout by Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank and gave L.A. a 73-64 lead.
"Those [baskets] were big just because it changed the complexion," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "[The Pistons] had some opportunities there. They missed a few shots and we were able to convert and sometimes that's all it takes."
Converting off opponents' misses and miscues has been a Clipper calling card all season. L.A. forces turnovers on 18.3 percent of opponents' possessions and gets 21.3 percent of its points off turnovers, according to NBA.com's stat tool; both marks lead the NBA, and have been an integral part of the Clippers' red-hot, Pacific Division-leading 18-6 start to the season.
As we discussed back when the Clips were dunking all over the Chicago Bulls last week, the team's marked defensive improvement — not only in forcing turnovers, but across the board — has been the catalyst for their ascendance to the league's elite through the first quarter of the season, and that's been especially true during their current 10-game winning streak.
Over the last 10 games, the Clippers are holding opponents to 41.7 percent shooting, smoking opponents in "hustle" points — they're scoring 58.8 combined points per game off turnovers, fast breaks and second-chance opportunities, compared to just 37 points per game for the opposition — and clamping down to the tune of 96.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, a defensive efficiency mark that would rank just above the top-of-the-league Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls if they managed it over the course of a full season. And the increased attention and effort on the defensive end hasn't tamped down the Chris Paul-led offense, which is scoring at a 112.2-per-100 clip that outstrips the output of the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.
It's been end-to-end brilliance by the Clips over the past couple of weeks, pushing them to the rarefied air of being the only team in the league to boast top-five units on both offense and defense. It's the ability to score efficiently on offense and consistently lock up on defense that has made the Clippers so dangerous and opened the door to late-game highlight hunting; as D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog put it, "the Clippers are eating all their vegetables every night, so it's OK for them to enjoy a little dessert."
Now, I realize that none of the last, oh, eight paragraphs were particularly sexy, and nowhere near as awesome as either one of those video clips up top. But if the Clippers are going to continue to fortify their burgeoning reputation as a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, it's much more likely to be because they continue to maintain that defensive improvement than because Blake Griffin keeps throwing down off-the-glass or double-pump alley-oops every game.
Still: It wouldn't hurt to try, Blake.
If the clips above aren't rocking for you, you can feel free to catch both fourth-quarter highlight plays elsewhere, thanks to our friends at the National Basketball Association.