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Clippers' Blake Griffin responds to hits with intensified play

Los Angeles ClippersSportsColumnPro BasketballBasketballBlake GriffinOklahoma City Thunder
Blake Griffin makes teams pay for hits
Blake Griffin keeps taking hits for the team
Clippers' Blake Griffin maintains composure after blows

You can smack him in the nose, strike him in the groin, bang him on the arm.

Blake Griffin will then proceed to bring his own brand of hurt.

The Clippers forward who has absorbed more blows than Donald Sterling's reputation will fight back with a vengeance fiercer than any clenched fist.

He drives for spinning layups, leaps for ferocious dunks and elevates for banked-in jump shots, crushing his opponents' spirit in a way that no roguish response to bodily harm ever could.

Griffin's courageous composure symbolized the Clippers' stunning comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. Game 5 is Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

With less than two minutes left and the Clippers trying to wipe out the remnants of a 22-point deficit, Griffin took a bounce pass from Chris Paul and drove right at the Thunder's Serge Ibaka, the same player who had sent Griffin tumbling to the court in the first quarter with a fist to the groin.

Griffin scored on a layup and drew a foul on Ibaka.

As he stumbled into Ibaka underneath the basket, Griffin graciously reached out to grab his counterpart, ensuring he wouldn't fall down.

Griffin calmly walked away from his nemesis and made the free throw to tie the score before the Clippers finished off their foils during the 101-99 triumph.

It was hard to tell whether Ibaka's fist to the groin in the game's first minute was intentional. Ibaka told reporters it was accidental, and replays appeared to show that Ibaka was propelled into Griffin by Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins.

But Ibaka's fists seem to have laser guidance to Griffin's midsection. Remember that Ibaka had struck Griffin in the same area during an ugly incident in March 2013, resulting in a flagrant foul and a $25,000 fine.

In Sunday's game Ibaka's low blow did not result in so much as a foul, though play was briefly stopped as Griffin writhed on the floor. Did Griffin think it was intentional?

"I really don't know," he said after the game. "I can't get into his head. I'm not going to try."

Griffin had seemed more annoyed by Ibaka bashing him in the nose during Game 3, a blow that left Griffin bloodied but also did not result in a foul. Griffin was incredulous that he could be hit with so much force without a referee's whistle being blown.

Responding with a thwack of his own does not interest Griffin. Memphis forward Zach Randolph received a one-game suspension in the first round of the playoffs for punching Oklahoma City's Steven Adams after a brief tussle between the players.

Hard knocks have become the norm for Griffin. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook bopped him on the arm during Game 3, prompting Griffin to wear a white sleeve over the area the rest of a game in which Griffin fought back by scoring 34 points.

"I don't know if anyone has taken more punishment this year than Blake," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Monday in a conference call with reporters. "In my opinion, some of them have been above board and some of them have not been. People keep getting away with it.

"Having said that, if he reacts one time, then he hurts the team. That's what I've told him all year, that the tougher, stronger guy is the guy that is willing to take the hits for his team and keep playing. That's what Blake has done, so I'm very proud of him."

The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Griffin has shrugged off the thuggery since high school, when other players began targeting him because of his superior size. His father, Tommy, who doubled as his coach at Oklahoma Christian School, explained that opponents were provoking him in hopes that he would strike back and receive a technical foul and ejection from the game.

The cheap shots intensified when Griffin moved on to the University of Oklahoma. He was punched in the groin by USC's Leonard Washington and famously flipped over the back of a Morgan State player during the 2009 NCAA tournament.

Griffin's response was typical: He kept playing.

"I have complete confidence that he can handle any situation that has been thrown at him because he's done it so well for so long," Griffin's older brother, Taylor, said in a phone interview. "He knows when to stand up for himself and when to walk away."

Not that it's easy for the elder sibling to watch. Taylor Griffin admitted that seeing his brother sustain blow after blow "gets my blood pumping a little bit."

Blake also gets going in a way that entails the most productive kind of revenge.

"I notice that every time that happens, he comes back harder, more aggressive, and he attacks the rim harder each time," Taylor Griffin said. "It normally proves too bad for the other team."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles ClippersSportsColumnPro BasketballBasketballBlake GriffinOklahoma City Thunder
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