LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Every NBA fan knows Blake Griffin, resident dunk-monster of Lob City. His one-handed jams have been fodder for highlight reels since his pro career began five years ago.
This playoff season, Griffin is showing a new level of production.
His gaudy numbers are proving he’s more than just a dunker; he’s matured into a multi-faceted star in a town long dominated by Kobe Bryant, whose Lakers are nowhere to be found in the postseason.
Griffin has three triple-doubles, with two against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, including 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a victorious Game 7. He joined Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson with at least three in the first eight games of the postseason.
Griffin is the conduit through which everything flows for the Clippers, who find themselves tied 3-3 in their Western Conference semifinal series against the Rockets after blowing a 3-1 lead.
Game 7 is Sunday in Houston, with the Clippers trying to reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. It’s a familiar position from the first round, when they beat the Spurs at home in Game 7 to advance.
Griffin is averaging 25.4 points in the playoffs, sixth-best in the league, with his 13 games the most among any player in the top 10. His 12.8 rebounds are a playoff best. He’s shooting 51 percent from the floor, 72 percent from the line and logging 39.5 minutes a game.
“Blake came into the league with talent, but now he’s becoming a better NBA player,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “Blake handles the ball well, he’s got that jump hook and he’s got a jump shot.”
Griffin is difficult to stop in the open court, sometimes running his own one-man fast break. In the paint, he forces teams to throw extra bodies on him. He’s averaging 6.2 assists, making opponents wary of leaving the passing lanes open.
Griffin is well-known among his coaches and teammates for the hours he puts in the gym, in-season or out, getting shots up and doing the little things to add new dimensions to his game.
“We ask him to face the basket more instead of turning your back on the basket on the post. That’s the area to me that he’s made the biggest improvement,” coach Doc Rivers said.
“Very difficult to guard him when he faces up to you right off the block because you can’t put your hands on him, with his first step and his quickness and his ability to see the floor, he’s just impossible.”
Griffin is every opponent’s favorite target for hard fouls, and yet the 26-year-old power forward keeps his cool.
“My entire career everybody says I need to punch somebody. I never have,” he said. “Hard fouls are a part of playoff basketball, and I think that’s how basketball should be.”
After a standout career at Oklahoma, Griffin was drafted No. 1 overall by the Clippers in 2009. He missed his entire first year after injuring his left knee in the team’s final preseason game. He quickly made up for it the next season, becoming the league’s first unanimous rookie of the year since David Robinson in 1989-90.
Led by Chris Paul, the Clippers have made the playoffs each of the past four years, although they have yet to advance beyond the second round.
If they don’t win Sunday, that failure would weigh heavily on Griffin, who has become an equal partner with Paul in trying to deliver the once-beleaguered franchise its first NBA championship.
“Blake puts more pressure on himself than anybody else does,” teammate Jamal Crawford said.
Griffin has developed a full game, including a reliable mid-range jumper and the ability to pop 3-pointers when needed. With Paul’s hamstring sidelining him for the first two games against the Rockets, Griffin took it upon himself to distribute the ball, dishing out 13 assists.
“Every year you kind of learn a little bit more,” he said. “Every year you kind of figure something new out. The biggest thing for me is you can’t just get too high with the highs or too low with the lows.”