Following a promising start to the offseason for the Boston Celtics, it seemed as though everything came crashing down weeks before training camp. Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL at EuroBasket, Robert Williams underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, and even Luke Kornet dealt with a sprained ankle in the preseason.
Add in the note that Al Horford was expected to sit out on the second night of back-to-backs (which he has), and there was some serious concern surrounding Boston’s big man rotation. Noah Vonleh was signed to the training camp roster (and eventually made the team), Grant Williams was set to play even more center minutes, and fans were begging the team to sign everyone from Dwight Howard to DeMarcus Cousins.
But Blake Griffin got the nod.
After spending a season and a half with the Brooklyn Nets, Boston inked Griffin to a one-year deal this summer, and so far, it’s been the perfect marriage.
Since he first joined the team, pictures flooded the Twitter timeline of him hanging out with teammates. A football game with Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams, a Jack Harlow concert with Pritchard and Jayson Tatum. He and Tatum even joked in training camp, messing with Mfiondu Kabengele from time to time.
With Horford sidelined on Monday night against the Toronto Raptors, Griffin stepped into the starting lineup - a role he’s been playing all year long when Horford sits. The former All-Star put on a show, helping Boston to a gritty win on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. After the contest, Marcus Smart made sure to give Griffin a shoutout.
“I gotta give a big shoutout to Blake, man. Man been hooping. I’m sure - I know I didn’t - I’m sure everybody here in the world probably didn’t know Blake still has some in the tank. So to be able to see him come out and give the energy that he’s given us, you know, that’s all you can ask for. It’s no wonder why everybody loves Blake. It’s no wonder why he’s on his team, and he’s still here in this league. He understands what it takes to be a vet. He understands what it takes to be ready at any given moment. Al was out tonight, and he had to step back into the starting lineup.”
Griffin put up 13 points, eight rebounds, and two assists in the start and tied Tatum for the most free throws on the Celtics (and shot 3-for-5). But the most impressive stat of the night was the 32:18 he logged.
The veteran hasn’t played that many minutes in a game since January 21, 2021 when he played 32:54 in a Detroit Pistons loss to the Utah Jazz. That means Griffin played more minutes in Boston’s win over the Raptors than he did in any regular-season game he appeared in during his Nets tenure.
Blake Griffin is looking RIGHT in Boston! Huge game out of him tonight pic.twitter.com/4NG3zcCuwU— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) December 6, 2022
Horford has missed five games this year - all on the second nights of back-to-backs, and Griffin has started in four of those five games (with the other start going to Vonleh). He’s played well, but Griffin’s impact extends far beyond the court, as implied when mentioning his array of off-court activities.
One of his starts came in Boston’s blowout win over the Charlotte Hornets on November 28. When asked about his choice to start Griffin, head coach Joe Mazzulla didn’t point to anything Griffin does on the court. Instead, he immediately began gushing over his impact away from it.
“I like Blake because he’s a great person. He’s been great for our team on and off the court. Plays hard, super aggressive. And a great teammate. So I thanked him for his professionalism and his work ethic to stay ready. It’s a long year, and we’re going to need more of that this season for sure.”
And, for what it’s worth, Griffin has been great in his four starts this year, in which he averages 22.5 minutes per game. Over the course of the four games, he’s putting up 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.0 assists on 71.4% shooting from the field and 37.5% shooting from distance. Plus, the Celtics are 4-0 when he starts.
Just a couple of seasons ago, Griffin was labeled as washed. Pistons fans ragged on him for not being able to dunk the ball, only to complain when he did just that after joining Brooklyn. But even then, while he put in some solid shifts as a Net, he faded out fairly quickly. By the end of his first full season with them, he was out of the regular rotation.
Fast forward a few months, and it seems as though he’s found a great home with the Celtics. He’s not expected to play regular minutes, he’s not a part of the everyday rotation, but it’s nonetheless a perfect fit. Griffin is on a “football schedule” (as phrased by Mr. CelticsBlog, Jeff Clark), and it’s perfect.