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Blake Griffin discusses new role with Celtics, his journey to Boston, and playing Joe Mazzulla in college

The 12-year veteran is looking for a chance to play for a championship.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official: the Boston Celtics have signed Blake Griffin.

The 33-year-old will join the team on a one-year, fully guaranteed contract, as was first reported this past Friday. Griffin will wear #91 with the Celtics, becoming the first player in team history to don those digits.

While he was seen talking to Jaylen Brown ahead of Boston’s preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets, the signing was not official in time for him to play, but he joined the team at training camp on Monday.

When asked about what he expects his role in Boston to be, he said he’s focused on providing the team with a stable bench presence in their quest to win a championship.

“Just some stability off the bench. They obviously have centers and Rob [Williams] and Al [Horford] that have played big minutes. ... Just some stability, whatever they need. If Al needs a break, if Rob needs a break, total utility. I didn’t come here demanding a certain type of role. It’s just to fill the gaps and help this team win a championship.”

Griffin was brought in after the Celtics suffered multiple long-term injuries to their frontcourt. Danilo Gallinari, who Boston signed to a deal at the start of the offseason, tore his ACL at EuroBasket and will likely miss the entire season. Robert Williams is set to miss 8-12 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Even Luke Kornet, who was expected to step into a larger role, sprained his ankle on the same day as the Griffin signing.

Despite only being with the Celtics for a day, Griffin already has rave reviews about the team dynamic. He noted that everyone at practice was extremely focused, and while that may seem like the norm, it’s something he often took for granted.

“They’re very welcoming and everybody — 1 through 15 or however many guys are here — in practice was focused, very encouraging, helpful. You kind of take that for granted because it’s not always the case everywhere you go.”

For the past two seasons, Griffing has been playing with the Brooklyn Nets and faced off against the Celtics in both of his playoff runs with them. The two teams split those series 1-1, although Griffin played few minutes in their matchup this past year.

Griffin referenced Brooklyn’s postseason battles with Boston, revealing that he noticed a big-time jump in the Celtics’ maturity and mentality from year-to-year.

“They are extremely disciplined,” Griffin said. “I thought when we played them in the first round two years ago, they were banged up, but they took a big step as far as maturation and how seriously they took the game. Not that they didn’t before, but to be a really good team, you have to take some big steps and they took those steps.”

He joined the Nets after getting bought out by the Detroit Pistons during the 2020-21 season. However, he told Boston reporters that he spoke with Brad Stevens and considered the Celtics as a potential destination. The fit just made more sense this time around due to Boston’s frontcourt injuries.

“I think it came about more recently with injuries. I talked to Brad two years ago when I was with Detroit and had a great conversation. I have a lot of respect for him so it sparked back then.”

With Gallinari sidelined, Griffin has a chance to step in and earn a big-time role off the bench in Boston. He’ll primarily be competing for minutes with guys like Grant Williams and Kornet (when he returns), but Robert Williams being out will likely see him earn increased minutes early regardless.

Last year with the Nets, Griffin appeared in just 56 games, playing 17.1 minutes per contest. He averaged 6.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 42.5% shooting from the field and 26.2% shooting from distance.

And while he was only spotted chatting with Brown, Griffin said that he’s had the chance to speak with everyone on the team, mentioning how welcomed he’s felt since getting to Boston.

“I talked to pretty much everybody. I got in yesterday and saw some guys yesterday. Obviously, I was here all of practice today, so I’m actually very … not surprised, but the amount of maturity and like, welcomingness, I don’t know if that’s a word, but it’s a different atmosphere than I was sort of used to, in a good way.”

Griffin also mentioned how excited he is to be in Boston. He referenced the team’s reputation, his respect for Stevens, and even the fact that he actually played against Mazzulla in college.

“Obviously beyond the history that this franchise has, Boston has always been one of those places as an NBA player where I feel like guys have a pretty cool experience playing there. Beyond that, just the core they have, having Brad in the front office now, the coaches that they have — I actually played against Joe in college — this young core and the foundation they laid last year sets the table. This is the kind of opportunity you couldn’t pass on.”

In their collegiate matchup, Griffin’s Oklahoma Sooners took down Mazzulla’s West Virginia Mountaineers in double overtime. Griffin dropped 18 points and 16 rebounds in 42 minutes, while Mazzulla posted just five points in 16 minutes.

Now, 15 years later, Mazzulla and Griffin find themselves on the same team with the same goal - to help the Celtics win a title.

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