Last week’s slate of Boston Celtics basketball may have felt like a one-game affair, as their loss in the NBA Finals rematch against the Golden State Warriors understandably sucked the wind out of many fans’ sails. That said, the Celtics did still play three games last week, and they won the other two — in impressive fashion, at that. On Monday, they gutted out a hard-fought win over the Toronto Raptors on the second night of a back-to-back, and they followed that win up with an absolute trouncing of the then-Western-Conference-leading Phoenix Suns on their home court — both on the road, both short-handed.
The Warriors loss was an undeniable let-down, but there was a lot to like about the rest of this week of Boston Celtics basketball. Let’s get into what may very well be my favorite Player of the Week column of the year.
Jaylen Brown deserves a leading mention, being one of the few Celtics with an actual pulse in the loss to the Warriors. He had a bit of a tough night against the Raptors — again, on the second night of a back-to-back — but he was comfortably great in the blowout win against Phoenix. Malcolm Brogdon also logged a quality pair of 16-point performances against Phoenix and Golden State, but sat out the Raptors game with a non-Covid illness. Luke Kornet was comically good against the Suns.
But enough of this group, let’s get to our leading man.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #8: Blake Griffin
3 GP, 24.7 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 70% FG, 67% 3PT, 8 RPG, 1.3 APG, +32
You’ve got to admit: this is a fun one. In all honesty, these are the kinds of picks that I live for. Before the season started, if you asked me to rank all the players on this roster based on their likelihood to claim a Player of the Week award, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Griffin would have ranked near the bottom, somewhere above Justin Jackson and below Noah Vonleh. Justin Jackson! I bet you didn’t even remember he was on this roster, did you?
What Griffin has done for the Celtics this season has been remarkable. It was remarkable before his performances this week, and it reached a whole other level with what was asked from him in the past three games. In keeping with classic Brad Stevens philosophy, Joe Mazzulla has opted to elevate players from deeper on the bench to fill short-term holes in the starting lineup, thus preserving the team’s rotations for the most part. Whenever Horford has taken his regularly scheduled nights off, Griffin has gotten the nod to fill his starting spot and put in 15-20 minutes of relief work. And he’s played well!
Once a week the Celtics pull Blake Griffin out of cryo-sleep to give Al Horford the night off and literally nobody in the league can figure out what to do about it— Dr. Daniel fromSport, Esq. (@DanielfromSport) December 6, 2022
This week was something else, though. With Horford abruptly sidelined due to Health and Safety Protocols, Griffin’s cozy part-time job suddenly demanded some overtime. Having appeared in just eight games (three starts) coming into the week, Griffin was pressed into starting all three of Boston’s games, and played nearly 25 minutes per night to boot. These weren’t easy assignments, either; his second start of the three game against Phoenix behemoth Deandre Ayton, and that game ended with Griffin recording a game-high plus-minus of +32.
Griffin has proven to be a snug fit for what the Celtics do offensively. It’s easy to see why they view him as a viable stand-in for Horford on that end of the court. He’s always been a willing passer — he’s perhaps never gotten quite enough credit for it throughout his career — and his jumper has become much more of a viable tool since his Clippers career came to an end. Is it “50% from deep” viable, as he’s averaging thus far this season? Of course not. But he clearly has some touch on his shot, enough to thrive alongside the many weapons within this Boston offense.
What’s been a real surprise is his bounce. The dunks have obviously garnered the most attention — he’s thrown down three so far in very limited minutes — but I’ve been most impressed with the effort and verticality he’s brought in loose-ball and second-chance scenarios. Those eight rebounds per game aren’t a mistake; he’s been committed on the glass, and he recorded five offensive boards across the week. Look at this put-back! It was probably the dagger in this game!
To be clear: we’re not handing out this award because of defense. It’s not Griffin’s fault that he’s old and slow, or that those traits limited the Celtics to a suboptimal drop coverage for much of the Warriors game. But it has to be mentioned — at this stage in his career, he’s just not out there to help this team get stops. The effort has been admirable; the physical limitations have had an effect.
Griffin may be a bit closer to a gimmick than he is to being a substantial answer for this team. He’s been a spark for this team over a remarkably short sample of minutes, but however bullish you might be about him, you’re not expecting him to maintain a true shooting percentage north of 70% this year. Who could?
Thankfully, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re here to celebrate the present, and Blake Griffin had a tremendous, surprising, incredible week as the starting center for the Boston Celtics. That’s something that will go down in the history of this year’s team as something that made a real impact, and that’s worth acknowledging. This may be his only appearance as Player of the Week this season, but it was a fun one, wasn’t it?
Next up, we have another busy four-game week as the Celtics conclude their road trip out west and finally go home. They face a tricky West Coast back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday, playing two games in the same arena as they battle the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, before returning home for consecutive games against the youthful Orlando Magic on Friday and Sunday. Who will be featured here next week? Give us your predictions in the comments below.