LOS ANGELES — The Blake Griffin Return Game? More like the Blake Griffin Revenge Game.
In his first game against the Clippers at Staples Center since they traded him in a bombshell blockbuster a year ago, Griffin scored a game-high 44 points to lead the struggling Pistons to a 109-104 victory.
“You know what they can do, what hurts them, yet it seems like the way the basketball gods turn out, when they come home – it’s not just (former Clippers stars Griffin, DeAndre Jordan or Chris Paul), it’s anyone who comes back to their place – they find a way of hurting you,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “It’s just the way it works.
“It’s amazing,” he continued. “You tend to want to beat the people you know more than strangers, and it should be the exact opposite sometimes.”
And the Clippers organization is oh-so-familiar with Griffin, who was the No. 1 overall pick and a five-time All-Star in his seven-plus seasons with the team. Griffin reportedly hasn’t spoken to Clippers management since the trade, and certainly not to Rivers, the coach said matter-of-factly Saturday morning.
Then, in a moment reminiscent of the instance when Griffin reportedly blew off the Clippers’ longtime broadcaster Ralph Lawler last season soon after the trade, Griffin left Steve Ballmer hanging courtside pregame Saturday, when he sprinted past his former team’s owner – whose hand was extended – after his warm-ups were complete.
And then he went out and made 13 of his 23 shots, including going 5 for 13 from deep and 13 of 14 from the free-throw line. Pistons teammate Andre Drummond finished the game with 20 points and 21 rebounds.
The Clippers, of course, traded Griffin on Jan. 29, just six months after they made him a pitch in which they depicted him as a “lifelong Clipper” during a free agency. Griffin signed a five-year, $171 million contract – and then was was traded.
Griffin – who went to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round draft pick (which became Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) and a second-round pick in 2019 – had his second-biggest scoring game of the season for the Pistons (18-23).
The Clippers (24-18) trailed 90-80 entering the fourth quarter, when it took them just about two minutes to get within 92-90 before the Pistons worked to separate themselves again.
With 7:57 remaining, Danilo Gallinari (23 points) hit two free throws to make it 97-92, which is how the game stayed for almost three minutes, until Harrell’s layup with 5:14 left cut Detroit’s lead to 97-94.
That brought on a sudden surge of scoring.
Lou Williams (22 points) dropped a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie it, but Reggie Bullock (17 points), another former Clipper, answered with a 3 of his own.
Williams darted back inside for a layup, and the Clippers trailed 100-99 before Griffin found Drummond for a dunk, Bullock hit another 3-pointer and Griffin backed down Harris (11 points) all the way for a bucket that put the Pistons in front 107-99.
A couple of free throws from Harrell and a jumper from Harris and the Clippers were back within 107-102, but they were running out of time.
After Griffin missed an attempted 3-point dagger with 33.6 seconds left, Gallinari corralled the rebound and the Clippers called timeout. Detroit’s Bruce Brown then intercepted a pass from Lou Williams, who was tangled up with a pair of Pistons defenders and afterward implored officials for a foul that wasn’t coming.
Following a Gallinari miss from deep, Griffin pulled down the last rebound and dribbled out the clock followed by the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, who continued barking at him until officials and teammates got between him and the Pistons star.
Not surprisingly, the Clippers bench outscored Detroit’s, 56-16, but as a team, they were outrebounded (48-36) and and outshot from 3-point range. The Pistons finished the game 16 for 37 from behind the arc compared with 9 for 18 for the Clippers.
Detroit entered halftime with a 65-54 lead – helped by an 11-4 disparity in made 3-pointers, including three by Griffin, who had 26 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 19 first-half minutes. Drummond finished the first half with 11 rebounds, a block and seven points.
Gallinari was the Clippers’ leading scorer at the half with 16 in 16 minutes on 5-for-7 shooting – including two of the Clippers’ four 3-pointers, and three of their six attempts (compared with the Detroits’s 22 shots from deep).
Harrell finished the first half with 12 points and four assists – two shy of his career high.
The Clippers trailed by as much as 14 with about 1:45 to go in the first quarter. The Clippers – running a small lineup of Williams, Gilgeous-Alexander, Beverley, Tyrone Wallace and Harrell – chipped away with a 22-11 run that brought them within 50-44 with 5:31 to go before halftime. Detroit and Griffin responded with a 15-10 run to end the half.
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