When Blake Griffin was bought out by the Detroit Pistons in early March, he was, by most accounts, thought to be done as an impact player on a winning team, or perhaps as an impact player at all. His inability to finish even one dunk during his 2020-21 Detroit tenure was regarded as evidence of his entirely deteriorated athleticism, and his long injury list and potential defensive limitations were seen as major red flags.
Griffin gave up $13.3 million to get out of his deal with the Pistons, who were unable to find a trade partner willing to eat the former All-Star's massive remaining salary. One of the teams Griffin considered signing with was the Boston Celtics, but in reaching out to an unnamed Boston player to gauge the situation, Griffin was reportedly advised to steer clear of the Celtics.
According to a source, Brooklyn's Blake Griffin asked a Celtics player if he should join the team midseason and was told not to come to Boston because of the apparent dysfunction.
Boston's internal issues have recently come into focus with Danny Ainge stepping down as general manager, Brad Stevens surrendering his coaching seat and Kemba Walker being traded. Per Weiss, Walker's relationship with Stevens had become particularly tense. There was a sense that Stevens was harder on certain players than others, with Walker among those most aggressively criticized and Marcus Smart on the more coach's-pet side of that equation.
That a Celtics player would go so far as to actually warn Griffin to stay away speaks volumes. But at the time, if we're being honest, it's safe to assume the Celtics, or any other team for that matter, wasn't exactly broken up about not landing Griffin. Again, to say he was seen as damaged goods would be an understatement. Plenty of people questioned whether he was still an NBA-rotation player.
That assessment looks utterly foolish now. The Brooklyn Nets wound up with Griffin, and he was superb for them in the postseason. Forced into a much bigger role than anticipated with injuries to Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Jeff Green, coupled with head coach Steve Nash removing DeAndre Jordan from the rotation, Griffin started all 12 playoff games for Brooklyn and was especially awesome against the Bucks.
In that second-round series, Griffin averaged 12 points and 7.7 rebounds. He shot 54 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3 on almost five attempts per game. He averaged 30 minutes and played 40 in Game 7, when he tallied 17 points and 11 rebounds. It was an honest question whether Nash could afford to take Griffin out even for the few minutes he did.
All series, Griffin was organizing possessions with dribble handoffs, setting screens, diving for loose balls, making sagging defenders pay by banging 3-pointers, and his defense -- among the chief initial concerns as it pertained to his postseason viability -- on Giannis Antetokounmpo was astoundingly good.
Giannis eventually found his buckets as the series wore on, but Griffin, whose 22 charges drawn continue to sit atop the postseason leaderboard, consistently stayed in front of what amounts to a human freight train. He held his ground and absorbed contact with his chest, either forcing the two-time MVP into a tough fadeaway or making him give the ball up altogether.
Here he does it twice on one possession:
Here Giannis has a full head of steam and Griffin stones him, forcing him into a travel:
And about that deteriorated athleticism ...
The question now isn't whether Griffin can help the Nets; it's whether the Nets can keep him. He's an unrestricted free agent this summer, and with the way he not only accepted his peripheral role but thrived in it, other contenders will likely be interested in his services.
But my guess is he stays with the Nets. Again, it's shocking how well he fit, and played, with them. We never got to see the Nets at full strength in the playoffs, and they're all going to come back with something to prove. If Griffin once felt like a tag-along, he now feels like a core part of a team with a chip on its shoulder. He obviously doesn't care about money over winning. He gave up $13.3 million to come to Brooklyn in the first place. Chances are he'll be willing to sacrifice again for a chance at his first championship. Certainly the Nets are hoping so, as even they couldn't have predicted how good Griffin would be for them in the biggest games.