The 2015-16 season was many things for Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, but “good” wasn’t one of them. On top of a partially torn left quad suffered in December, Griffin’s bar fight with a member of the team’s equipment staff and ensuing hand injury caused him to miss 47 games. Along with the missed games, Griffin became the brunt of countless Twitter jokes, such as this gem:
(Okay, that one wasn’t even related to him punching out the equipment guy, but Griffin has been through a lot these past few seasons.)
It was strange watching someone who’s career has been built off endorsements, dunking and general excitement to be thrown into the headlines for something so negative. It was like if Rob Gronkowski got drunk and punched out someone on his party boat, it just shouldn’t happen.
Heading into this season, Griffin needed to come back in a big way. So did the Clippers. Sure, they were 4th in a solid Western Conference last year, but they lost in the first round to the lower seeded Portland Trail Blazers in six games. That was their first opening round exit since 2013, and it marked a decline from the steady rise of previous seasons.
It’s no secret that Griffin had a big hand in the Clippers’ woes last season. Rumors were swirling about his relationship with Chris Paul, and a power struggle was apparent right up until Griffin’s incident. Part of the reason why this affected the Clippers so much is the conflict between locker room turmoil and a playing style that relied heavily on big plays and team chemistry. It’s hard to make it look good on the court when things are a mess behind the scenes.
Heading into this season, Griffin got in front of the issues as quick as possible. In a letter to Clippers fans in The Player’s Tribune, he opened by talking about the elephant in the room:
“Last season sucked. I am truly sorry. What happened in Toronto was 100% my fault. I messed up. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. And I don’t mean that in some clichéd “not a day goes by” way.” Griffin said. “I genuinely think about it every single day, and I just feel like I let down the fans who have been riding with us since the beginning.”
Griffin goes on to talk about the pride he has playing for the Clippers, and talks about his relationships with everyone on the team. Even if he didn’t write it, (ironically, many players don’t write their own stuff on The Player’s Tribune), the sentiment was great. That being said, it wouldn’t mean anything if he didn’t go out on the court and back it up. But he did.
As of today, the Los Angeles Clippers are 13-2, and first in the Western Conference. Griffin leads the team in scoring with 21.9 PPG. The Clippers have one of the best defenses in the NBA, led by Deandre Jordan, who currently sits at 5th in the NBA in rebounds. Chris Paul leads the league in steals, and the team as a whole appears to be finding a groove.
It’s hard to say whether or not the Clippers will be able to keep pace with the highly skilled Golden State Warriors in the West, but as of now, they’re off to one of the best starts in recent memory. Early on, Griffin could be the potential frontrunner for comeback player of the year. If he can go out and have a successful season, the Clippers as a whole will look pretty good come playoff time. Until then? Well, as Griffin put it in his letter, “F— it. Let’s just go out and play basketball.”