LOS ANGELES – It was nearly midnight when Blake Griffin made the slow walk down the Staples Center hallway to meet his parents after a long night's work. Each step of Griffin's looked painful, and for good reason.
The Memphis Grizzlies had pushed, shoved and tossed around the Los Angeles Clippers' high-flying forward, leaving him bruised and scraped. Griffin had fought to maintain his composure against the physicality, even once pulling his jersey partially over his face to hide his frustration over the officiating.
Never once, however, did Griffin succumb to the beating. He stood tall for most of the night before fouling out in overtime, finishing with 30 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the Clippers' 101-97 Game 4 victory.
“I’m pretty sore," said Griffin, whose Clippers own a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. "My back, my knees, all that.”
Through the series' first three games, Griffin had sometimes struggled against the Grizzlies' 260-pound forward Zach Randolph and 7-foot-1 center Marc Gasol. Griffin's post game appeared limited and his poor free-throw shooting only complicated matters.
“My game has a lot of improvement that is left to be made,” Griffin said. “I don’t ever want to feel that I don’t have anything to prove. This year, especially, I felt there was a drive inside of me where I really needed to step up in a bigger way to help my team actually win some games.”
Randolph put Griffin to the test in Game 4. The two tussled late in the second quarter after Gasol fouled Clippers forward Reggie Evans. After Randolph again became entangled with Griffin a couple minutes later, he chest-bumped Griffin, drawing a technical, then tossed his headband to the court in frustration after he was subbed out.
“He’s playing physical," Randolph said. "He’s a strong, young kid."
Gasol also took his turn leaning on Griffin. Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay even tried to dunk on him.
“Their plan is to play physical, and that is what they’re doing,” Griffin said. “That’s the way they play.”
Two of Griffin's teammates – Evans and Kenyon Martin – have encouraged him to play more physical. Evans was listed as the NBA's dirtiest player in a recent Sports Illustrated player poll, and Martin still ranks as one of the league's more intimidating players.
“Kenyon and Reggie are kind of our enforcers,” Griffin said. “They get things going, and I just try to feed off of that.”
Griffin's 30 points came on just 15 shots, evidence of how often the Grizzlies sent him to the foul line.
“He is our horse," Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. "We got to keep feeding him.”
Griffin's big concern now is to stay out of foul trouble. He collected five fouls in each of the series' first three games, then fouled out in Game 4 with 2:42 remaining in overtime. That forced Griffin to cheer from the bench as Paul closed out the victory.
“Sitting there was terrible,” Griffin said. “…I don’t want to put my teammates in a situation like that where I’m not available.”
Griffin was sore when he left the Staples Center, and he expects the Grizzlies to come at him even harder when the series returns to Memphis for Wednesday's Game 5. He's also not planning to back down.
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