By Will Robinson
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The knocks on Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin's basketball ability are, in some order, his offensive post game, defense and free throw shooting.
But in recent weeks, the fourth-year National Basketball Association (NBA) player from Oklahoma has shown improvement in each of those areas to varying degrees.
The former first overall draft pick scored a game-high 27 points and collected nine rebounds in the Clippers' 115-92 win over San Antonio on Monday. A career 61.7 percent free throw shooter, Griffin also drained 11 of 15 attempts and has hovered above 70 percent in the last month.
"It's a confidence thing, for me, going up there and feeling like you're going to hit every single one and not being worried about getting fouled at any point in the game," Griffin said after the Spurs game. "That's the difference for me this year opposed to the past however many.
"I feel like being in the paint and really attacking, you almost get fouled 90 percent of the time, so not worrying about going to the free throw line and really making them pay - it makes people think twice about just taking a foul here or there. It allows the game to be less slow and physical."
When Griffin is productive and assertive in the post, it opens up the Clippers offense: teams frequently double-team him. When the second defender comes, Griffin excels in passing to the open man, often perimeter shooters.
"It's been fun to watch (Griffin's aggressiveness in the post), and it's my job to keep feeding him," said six-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul. "When Blake gets it going like that, I love when he demands the ball and commands the ball; he's a handful. He's a guy, right now, that you have to double him in order to stop him."
"Offensively, for us to be able to stop every run with a post play is something we haven't done a lot," Rivers said. "We like to matchup down there; we gave them great space, and he came through for us."
A point of emphasis for Clippers head coach Doc Rivers in his first year with the team has been defense - his swarming scheme was a trademark while coaching the Boston Celtics.
Griffin and frontcourt mate DeAndre Jordan succeeded in clogging the interior against the Spurs, outscoring them in the paint 50-42.
"We asked them to do something in pick-and-roll coverage, and they did it all game, and to be able to do that and get back under the basket is exhausting, and they both did throughout the game," Rivers added. "Defensively, (Griffin) was great."
If Griffin continues earning free throws and making them, dominate opposition down low and stifle opposing bigs, Los Angeles could advance past the second round of the playoffs, the furthest they have reached since Griffin's arrival in 2010.
"We're going to keep playing through him every night like that until he tells us otherwise," Paul asserts.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)