It's bad enough to kick off your 22nd year on Earth by missing 9-of-12 field goals and 7-of-15 free throws to finish with a ghastly -23 line in a 104-94 loss to the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. But to nearly add injury to that insult, courtesy of a Jodie Meeks stiff-arm and a Tony Battie takedown on the break? Not the happiest of birthdays for Blake Griffin.
Kate Fagan recounted the play for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
... everything shifted with 2:38 left in the [first] half. The game had been puttering along, another run-of-the-mill NBA game, when Griffin took excessive offense to Battie's transition foul of the high-flying superstar.
Griffin was charging ahead on a breakaway, with defenders Meeks and Battie surrounding him. After Meeks ran past Griffin, swiping backward at the ball, Battie attempted to lock up Griffin and appeared to try to keep Griffin from falling. Griffin sprang off the court and nearly went after Battie, clearly misunderstanding Battie's intentions.
Initially, Battie was whistled for a flagrant foul 2, which means immediate ejection, but that was almost immediately downgraded to a flagrant foul 1, which allowed Battie to stay in the game.
I don't particularly love Meeks' wayward swipe, but no serious NBA watcher saw that play and believed that the 35-year-old Battie, a 12-year vet whose reputation skews more toward "professional steadying presence" than "cheapshot artist/ne'er-do-well," was trying to lower the boom on the Los Angeles Clippers' star rookie. Despite the intent, however, Griffin's explosion "was bound to happen" at some point, according to SB Nation's Brian Floyd, who saw the outburst as evidence of a player "finally pushed ... to his breaking point" after "months of getting shoved around." (Word to Andre Miller.)
Griffin himself echoed that sentiment after the game, according to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times:
Said Griffin of the flagrant foul: "I just felt like they had let things go way too much up to that point. That's what happens when you let things go when they don't call fouls and things like that happen. ... And I thought it was ridiculous. So I'm not going to take that. ... I've done it too much this season. It got to me."
In the context of a season-long slugfest, it's hard to fault Griffin too much for venting his frustration after such a potentially dangerous play. In the context of this particular game, though, it wasn't a good look.
Sure, we can all understand Griffin's reaction. But with his team down only three late in the first half despite his individual failings (the All-Star forward had missed his first six shots of the night) and the absence of injured stud running mate Eric Gordon, blowing his stack made it even harder for him to get on track. By getting up in a huff and coming back at Battie, Griffin won the mental battle in his mind ("I'm not going to take that"), but sacrificed a strategic advantage in the larger struggle, which his Clips wound up losing.
For the Clippers of the future to be successful, Blake Griffin will have to become the type of leader who can suffer the slings and arrows, take a deep breath, regain his composure, then hit his free throws and get back on defense. He's certainly capable of learning that larger lesson from Wednesday night's loss; if he does, he'll owe Tony Battie a thank-you card for imparting the birthday gift of wisdom. So much better than a gift card to Barnes & Noble.