Blake Griffin led the Detroit Pistons to a 109-104 victory in his first meeting at Staples Center against his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It was nice to get that game over with,” Griffin exhaled. “I kind of compare it to the first game of the year in a way. There’s such a big hype leading up to it, and then once it’s done, you have to play 81 more. Now we have to play 41 more or whatever it is. It’s over, and I’m moving on, they’re moving on.”
Fans rose to their feet and gave Griffin a roaring applause during his Pistons’ starting lineup introduction. He proceeded to huddle surrounded by his teammates and shouted “I’m ready to fight, are you?” The five-time All-Star largely downplayed the significance of the emotionally charged matchup, he expressed the priority of winning instead.
“I mean we need wins right now so coming in and focusing and getting that done was the most important thing for us,” said Griffin.
This season, Griffin’s head coach Dwane Casey similarly experienced a game that had a personal significance as he coached against his ex-team Toronto Raptors. Casey was let go by the Raptors after leading the team to their best record in franchise history along with being the top seeded team heading into last season’s playoffs.
“A lot’s being made about him coming back, and anyone would not be telling the truth if that didn’t pull some emotional string that you have, coming back to the place where you helped build and you put together,” Casey remarked prior to his team’s Wednesday night loss to the Lakers. “I hope we can play all the ex-teams, the revenge games.”
At the first timeout Griffin was honored with a video tribute comprised of his career highlights and some of his signature commercials.
“It was really cool to be welcomed back like that,” said Griffin. “It means a lot. I appreciate all these fans here.”
Griffin amassed 26 first-half points on 10 field goal attempts most of which came from playing through double-teams by Clipper defenders. He dominated through four quarters on both ends of the court towards a 44-point performance.
“This win is for him,” stated Pistons’ center Andre Drummond, who finished with 20 points and 21 rebounds.
“The most important thing was his teammates were excited for it, and that is a sign of togetherness,” added Casey.
Before the game, Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer waited for Griffin to finish his warmups before attempting to greet his former player with his hand extended. Griffin swiftly jogged directly past Ballmer to the locker room without acknowledgment of his gesture.
“For nine years now, as soon as I’m done doing my pregame shooting I make sure there’s a path and I take off running to the locker room and I don’t stop running,” Griffin commented. “It wasn’t anything planned.”
In the summer of 2017 the Clippers deemed Griffin, the team’s former number one overall pick, the future of their franchise. He was signed to a five-year, $171 million contract extension. Six short months later, it was announced Griffin was being shipped to Detroit in exchange for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round draft pick, which became Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and a 2019 second-round pick.
“Blake was the star,” Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers said. “He was the dunk contest winner. He wore a Clipper jersey and people understood. Now when you hear our name you don’t think of those Clippers, those bad Clippers before Blake. To me, Blake is the one that started that. Any success we have, in my opinion, from this point forward, is due to Blake, D.J. and Chris and in that order.”
Griffin was instrumental in turning the Clippers franchise around. Since joining the Pistons, his impact has carried over. Griffin is averaging career-highs in points (25.1) and three-pointers (2.3).
“We’re glad we got him, he’s the foundation of our program going forward,” said Casey.
The marquee game between the Pistons and Clippers is in both team’s rearview mirrors as both teams look towards making the playoffs.