Don't Look Down: Clippers 126, Wolves 111
Forget about the dead birds, the dead fish, and the functional illiterate squatting on The Times’ Bestseller List. Our surest sign yet of the coming apocalypse came last night in Los Angeles. Kevin Love didn’t grab a single rebound in the entire first half. Not one.
This is quite possibly the rarest of statistical anomalies the NBA has to offer. Even an uncontainable talent like LeBron James has the occasional cold streak, as do Rajon Rondo’s fellow Celtics, which would explain either of the two respectively failing to register a point or assist. Try as they might, the ball doesn’t always go in the basket. But that’s exactly what made this so….strange.
Not one? Really?
Then again, it wasn’t hard to understand why. Saddled with early foul trouble, Love saw limited minutes and upon returning to action, he simply couldn’t handle Blake Griffin. You see, even after acknowledging them for the coded indicators of race that they are, we must also accept that the essence of Kevin’s game is hard work and a high IQ. Underwhelming physique or not, he knows the entire floor, positions himself well and never gives up on a play. This alone has been enough to outperform championship frontcourts in both Boston and San Antonio, in addition to hanging a 30/30 game around Amar’e Stoudemire’s neck. But Griffin is an unparalleled athlete and workhorse. It almost…no, it was unfair. The Clippers carried a twelve point lead into the half, which by no coincidence was the same advantage they held in second chance points, thanks solely to Blake Griffin. Nothing that powerful should be so nimble.
Watching Kevin Love play is to appreciate the mundane. As we’ve discussed, missed shots are a given and someone has to corral those loose balls, it’s just impressive to see one man command so many of them. But to watch Blake Griffin play is not only expecting, it’s taunting the impossible. One misstep could result in something you’ve never seen before, nor will you see again. Late in the second quarter, Griffin missed an off balaced lay up over both Love and Darko. However before either could successfully box him out, Griffin bounded between them both, secured the rebound and instinctively pivoted past Corey Brewer before gently laying the ball in over his shoulder and between all three defenders.
Minutes later, Griffin again found both Love and Milicic between himself and the basket. Edging past Darko with those quick feet, he extended the ball out of reach and bounced it off the backboard. This time both he and Love were in position for the carom, but just as Love’s fingertips grazed the ball, Griffin snatched away a sure thing and slammed it through the hoop in one swift motion. With an open lane and the appropriate distance, we’ve seen such acrobatics from Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. This was much different. The paint was packed and Griffin couldn’t have had more than a foot of space to operate in. A dozen replays won’t confirm whether it was intentional or not, but it was nothing short of amazing nonetheless. The man is an All-Star.
Though they both play the same position and post similar numbers for teams with equally dismal records, the Clippers recent surge, Blake’s showstopping play and the circus coming to Los Angeles this year will all factor into the redhead getting a nod. However, this doesn’t mean our Lovely forward shouldn’t.
Of all the stats one could muster in making the case for Kevin Love-31 & 31, the double-double streak, leading the league by three rebounds per game-this might be the most jaw dropping nugget: Our young man is the association’s 18th leading scorer with 21.3 points per game, but he’s not even in the top fifty in usage. Aside from the occasional pick n’ pop, plays are never run for him. He takes advantage of gaps in the defense for a drive or two, trails on the break to pop a few threes, uses that reputation to draw free throws, puts back some second chances and before you know it, he’s got another twenty points while keeping Lord knows how many off with his boardwork on the other end. All without any of the ball stopping, hand waving, foot stomping petulance that has plagued so many scorers above him.
So let’s not point fingers at his team’s poor record. One man can only do so much. This is about recognizing the best performances-not the best players-and certainly not just those on the best teams. The name of the game is to put the ball in the basket. The beauty of the game is in how you do it. Every year we reward those who do it best with an All Star appearance. It’s no coincidence that the game’s best players are typically its best scorers, however this practice has become so reflexive that we’ve now pit the two most worthy candidates against each other instead of questioning the old guard.
Actually, there’s one name in particular who has missed several games and his production is down across the board, as is his team’s record. But we’ve still heard his name far too much lately. So much, in fact, that yesterday a team called a press conference only to declare that they weren’t trading for him. It would a shame if he prevented our pup from receiving his just due.
Kevin Love demands no attention, rarely complains, always produces and revels in the dirty work. He’s an All Star for doing all the things an All Star doesn’t.