LOS ANGELES — In a long-anticipated revenge game against his former team, Blake Griffin punished the Los Angeles Clippers in every conceivable manner Saturday: draining threes, throwing down hammer dunks, hitting the deck for loose balls and inviting chippy altercations. But he swore the only message he sent came during the game, not beforehand.
The Detroit Pistons’ five-time all-star power forward — who has told reporters he’s had no contact with the Clippers’ front office since they abruptly traded him a year ago this month — went home with a game-high 44 points and a 109-104 road win. Afterward, Griffin was adamant that a viral video which appeared to show him ignoring an attempted handshake from Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was not an intentional snubbing of his former boss.
“For nine years now, as soon as I’m done with my pregame shooting, I make sure there’s a path and I take off running to the locker room,” Griffin said “I don’t stop running. A lot of you have seen me do that before. I don’t change that for anybody. To tweet out something like that, I thought was kind of bull—-. That’s what it was. Plain and simple. It wasn’t anything planned. Every single game I’ve done this for how long.”
Even so, Griffin’s ongoing frustration at being blindsided by the blockbuster — after spending his first eight NBA seasons in L.A. — was evident. Asked directly about Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, Griffin said only: “He’s not my coach anymore.”
Would he shake hands with Ballmer, the excitable former Microsoft CEO and the Clippers owner since 2014, if given a do-over?
“I’m honestly not here to answer hypothetical questions,” Griffin said flatly.
The Clippers did their part to make nice, welcoming back Griffin with an extended tribute video. The Staples Center crowd greeted him with a standing ovation and his highlight plays drew scattered cheers all night.
Nevertheless, L.A. was on the wrong end of the full Griffin experience all afternoon. He started hot, scoring 15 points in the first quarter en route to becoming the first Pistons player since Jerry Stackhouse in 2001 to tally multiple 40-point games in the same season. Fighting through regular double-teams, Griffin added eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. He shot 13-23 from the field, drilled five three-pointers, bulldozed his way to 14 free throw attempts and seemed to delight in some heated chest-to-chest conversations with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley.
At the buzzer, Griffin and Beverley got into one final discussion before both teams headed their separate ways. Griffin bounded into the Pistons’ locker room, doling out high-fives to every team staffer. Later, celebratory whoops could be heard from inside the locker room.
“I thought it meant a lot to Blake,” said Pistons Coach Dwane Casey, who praised Griffin as a culture-changer for a Clippers franchise that selected him first overall in the 2009 draft. “The most important thing was his teammates were excited for him.”
Both the Clippers and Pistons have reason to be pleased with the Griffin trade, which sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic from Detroit to L.A. The Pistons, who are in the mix for just their second postseason appearance in the last decade, landed their most marketable star in years. Griffin is averaging 24.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists and is on track for his first all-star appearance since 2015.
“We’re glad we got him,” Casey said of Griffin. “He’s the foundation of our program going forward. He showed tonight how he’s playing at an all-pro — not all-star — all-pro level.”
L.A., meanwhile, remains in the West’s hotly-contested playoff picture and Harris is an all-star candidate. Ballmer and his front office also have dreams of landing multiple stars in 2019 free agency after ditching the final four years of Griffin’s five-year, $171 million contract.
Griffin’s lingering resentment over the mechanics of the trade is hardly surprising. L.A. had courted him during the summer of 2017 with a “Clipper for Life” pitch and a mock jersey retirement. Just seven months later, he was shipped off to Detroit with little advance warning. On Saturday, he acknowledged the Clippers’ olive branch and sounded ready to move past the back-and-forth drama.
“It was cool, man, really cool,” Griffin said of the tribute video. “To be welcomed back like that, it means a lot. I appreciate all these fans here. The next time you come here, [the attention and hype] won’t be the same, obviously. It’s nice to get the game over with.”
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