By the time the fourth quarter rolled around on Friday night, the Boston Celtics had jumped out to a convincing lead over the Utah Jazz. But as the final frame went on, Utah showed signs of life. With their history of giving up double-digit leads, and the fact that they blew a 19-point lead to the Jazz less than two weeks ago, the game showed all the signs of another Celtics collapse.
That’s where Blake Griffin came in.
“We were creating just enough chaos,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “I thought it was important. We needed that. We needed something to enhance our focus and our energy for the last five minutes. So, I thought Blake provided that.”
Jayson Tatum’s clutch shot-making stole the show, but Griffin’s willingness to get his hands dirty helped Boston stay afloat when Utah had them on the ropes. He earned Tommy Point after Tommy Point on Tommy Heinsohn Night at TD Garden, and it couldn’t have been a more fitting tribute for Griffin to show off his dedication to the team.
Griffin was diving for loose balls, scrapping for rebounds, and getting in the face of Utah players all night. All of the little things that needed to be done got done because of him.
“That’s just kind of my role. To kind of do that type of stuff,” Griffin said when asked about the charges he drew against the Jazz.
The box score only shows one charge drawn for Griffin, but he attempted plenty more than that. At one point, he attempted and failed to draw so many charges that he picked up a tech for slamming the ground.
“Taking a charge is a huge momentum-shifter,” Griffin explained. “Derrick [White] and Smarty [Marcus Smart] do that incredibly well. And you can feel it. When I’m on the bench, and those guys take charges, it’s a big play for us. I don’t know about the ones that aren’t called. Those ones kind of hurt. It’s like adding injury to insult.”
When he wasn’t drawing charges, he was getting under the skin of any Jazz player that would listen. Fighting with Walker Kessler for rebounds, diving on the floor with Talen Horton-Tucker, snatching the ball away from Kris Dunn, and subsequently laughing in his face.
Wherever the ball went, Griffin followed, and his teammates take notice. Smart was constantly egging him on from the bench when he laid out for a loose ball or attempted to aggravate a Utah player. Those little moments are what make Griffin such a special part of this Celtics team.
“Once we took the timeout, it was more about finishing the game,” said Mazzulla. “Blake’s in that category where anytime we call his name, he brings a physicality and a joy and an energy that feeds off our team, and our team feeds off of it.”
And while his energy and constant hustle were the standout facets of his game against Utah, he also played huge role on the glass for the Celtics, pulling in 12 rebounds.
The Celtics were missing both Al Horford and Robert Williams on Friday night. In their March 18 loss to Utah, in which they were also missing their two starting bigs, Boston was outrebounded 17-5 on the offensive glass and 56-40 overall.
This time around, Griffin helped mitigate that issue. He made sure to pressure Kessler, Kelly Olynyk, and the rest of the Jazz for every rebound, and finished the night with 12 boards.
“I’ve said it plenty of times - Blake is one of the best,” said Jayson Tatum. “A true professional. Accepting this role that he’s in. Doesn’t play for some games. [Then] guys are out, and now he starts. Played 25 minutes, [had] 12 rebounds, [and] took some charges.”
When the Celtics signed Griffin this summer, it was unclear what his role would be. Boston already had Horford and Williams, and Luke Kornet seemed to be carving out a nice role for himself. But it quickly became clear that his impact was going to be felt regardless of whether or not he touched the floor.
One look at the Celtics bench on any given night shows the deep influence he’s had on this team. He’s always cracking jokes, hyping up his teammates, and staying ready for his next opportunity. Griffin is always ready.
But it’s his contentedness with not playing combined with his on-court energy that makes him so remarkable.
“It’s great to see somebody that was essentially at the top of this league and now, in a different role, doesn’t have an ego at all,” said Tatum. “[He] essentially does whatever he needs to do to help us be a better team each and every night, and it showed tonight.”