The focus of Blake Griffin’s growth seems to solely be on his offense. It’s the easiest facet of the game to keep track of as the deciding victor is chosen based on whichever team scores the most points. When a player has a large hand in that matter his work gets noticed.
But his improvement on the other end is something that should be getting more praise. Sure Griffin recovers from hedges slowly when defending the pick-and-roll and maybe his rotations aren’t as crisp as would like them to be, but there’s no denying that, with the help of Doc Rivers, Griffin’s defense has considerably improved.
Enter Dirk Nowitzki, one of the best scoring forwards this NBA has ever seen.
Coming into tonight’s matchup, Dirk Nowitzki has averaged 21.5 points per game in the 11 games he and Blake Griffin had been featured in. In the last three games against Griffin, Nowitzki had averaged 28 points, so it was clear Griffin had struggled with the dynamic forward.
In the first half of the Mavericks-Clippers game, things looked to be going according to plan for Dallas. As they were up 60-58 going into the half, Dirk Nowitzki was doing this thing, shooting 5-of-6 from the field for 14 points, accounting for 23 percent of the teams’ total points.
But in the second half, Nowitzki disappeared and Blake Griffin had a large hand in that as the forward went 2-for-9 in the second half for a total of 7 points, accounting for 16 percent of the teams’ total points Of the nine shots taken, eight came when defended by Griffin. To end the game, Nowitzki missed six straight shots mainly because of Griffin’s pressure when Nowitzki received the ball on the elbow or or from heavily contesting Nowitzki’s two three-pointers.
There is no set blueprint for how to guard Dirk Nowitzki. Once, many assumed putting a smaller player on Dirk would help, but he’d shoot right over them. And for forwards and centers his size? He’d use the dribble and quickness to his advantage. Griffin is somewhat in the middle of the failed Nowitzki defensive prototypes. While he isn’t 7-feet, he stands at 6-foot-8 and has the ideal foot speed to keep up with Dirk off the dribble. Griffin lacks a lengthy arm-span that can often disrupts Nowitzki’s shots, but his athleticism made up for his shortcomings. Griffin’s best method of defense was disrupting Dirk when he was in triple-threat position. Not once did Blake let Dirk get comfortable, constantly swiping toward the ball throwing Nowitzki off rhythm. This ultimately led to Dirk’s lackluster half, a key factor in the Clippers winning this game.
Seeing Blake’s improvement on this end is a welcome sight. It’ll take time for Rivers to make him elite on that end, if that ever happens, but his work on Nowitzki shouldn’t go unnoticed.