MIAMI -- Both feet were plunged into a blue tub filled with ice chips floating in frigid water.
Each knee was encased in a stretched-cloth wrap holding ice packs -- what else? -- in place.
Blake Griffin is the pterodactyl of a rookie power forward for the Los Angeles Clippers, and already he has become a must-see NBA highlight reel. He is a 6-foot-10, 251-pound package of power and no small amount of grace who routinely flies through the air with the greatest of ease to grab rebounds and/or throw down stunning dunks.
|Blake Griffin takes no prisoners, dunking on anybody and everybody. (US Presswire)|
"I'm getting used to it," Griffin said at his cubicle in the visitors' locker room in American Airlines Arena after a loss to the Heat.
Maybe he meant the punishment he absorbs.
Maybe he meant the ice baths he takes.
Because, well, an opponent has to do something.
Hadn't it been Heat coach Erik Spoelstra who said before the game that Miami would defend Griffin in the manner it defends Orlando monster Dwight Howard, which meant sending "a swarm" at him whenever possible? And wouldn't Spoelstra say after the game that Griffin, who scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in defeat, reminded him "of a more powerful version of Shawn Kemp" when the ball is in the air?
OK, now, that's just scary.
"He jumps over people," James marveled.
"He's a phenomenon. L.A.'s got a gem," Wade declared.
Griffin warrants the accolades.
The Clippers made him the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft after his sophomore season at Oklahoma, but then lost him for the year to a broken left kneecap.
"People tend to forget he's still a rookie," said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro in accurately pointing out Griffin's official league status. "He's had to shoulder a lot of the load.
"He has such athleticism, power and explosiveness."
Griffin, in fact, has become so good so quickly that 20-point, 10-rebound performances have become the minimum norm. He's compelling enough that it's almost impossible not to watch him regardless of where the ball is when the Clippers are on offense.
No wonder he's the first rookie All-Star since Houston's Yao Ming eight years ago.
"We can move him around on the court," Del Negro said. "He's settling down. He knows where the double-teams are coming from more easily. He's a willing passer. He can make the game easier for teammates."
And make it a problem for everyone else.
"If you guys can tell me how to stop the one-, two-dribble lob ... they throw it 30 feet in the air to Blake Griffin," Spoelstra said. "I don't know what to do with that. He missed two or three dunks where we had weak-side position, and he's just over the top."
Not that Griffin, who seems comfortable-in-his-own-skin mature, pays much attention to the compliments.
"They're nice to hear," he said, "but it doesn't mean I've accomplished anything."
If that's self-deprecating modesty, so be it.
And he has accomplished something, because the Clippers, a mostly young bunch, have benefitted from Griffin's ridiculous blend of brute force and surprising agility to forge an identity as more than just Los Angeles' other team.
The cynics, of course, suggest that Griffin sooner or later will wear a different uniform -- perhaps even that of the L.A.-kingpin Lakers -- because isn't that always how it goes with the Clippers?
In the present, however, Griffin and his crew are in the early stages of a brutal 11-game schedule of road assignments leading into and out of the All-Star break.
Griffin knows what's coming, because the Heat sent more than one defender to him more often than not when he had the ball. They bumped and grinded and even flagrant-fouled him once.
"You deal with it," Griffin said.
It sounded like aplomb or a warning or both.
It sounded ... icy.
But the All-Star Game itself should be a reward and respite for Griffin, who'll be right at home in the Staples Center where the Clippers share digs with the Lakers. And for heaven's sake, don't bet against Griffin in the Slam Dunk contest if he does participate.
Because who says pterodactyls are extinct?