Wednesday night saw the second meeting of the season between the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Clippers, a game that was seen by many as a match up between Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin. The two young players did not disappoint, even though one of their teams did.
The game started off at a very fast pace, with both Rose and Griffin scoring 13 in the opening quarter. The second quarter saw Rose scoreless but dishing assists while Griffin exploded for 12 more to keep the Clippers in the game, including two points on this beautiful alley-oop from Randy Foye that electrified the Staples Center crowd.
While Griffin provided the highlight of the night, it was Rose who controlled the second half, scoring 19 points--and receiving his fair share of MVP chants from the Bulls fan transplants on the West Coat--as Chicago jumped out quickly after the half and never looked back. The Bulls held Griffin to only seven points in the second half, and as his teammates were not able to pick up the slack, the Bulls cruised to an easy 106-88 victory.
The game was a microcosm of the teams' seasons and their immediate futures. Rose played another in a season-long string of excellent games and took over in the second half to put away an inferior opponent while Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng played dictionary definition examples of supporting players. All the while, the team played stifling defense. While the team had no answer for Griffin, they were able to slow him down enough in the second half and get the win. The Bulls currently own the second-best record in the Eastern Conference (at 34-14, they own a tie-breaker over Miami having won in the teams' only match up) and are now 19-6 since center Joakim Noah went out with a wrist injury. Noah is expected to return following the All-Star Game in less than three weeks. If the Bulls can continue their sterling play and Noah can resume his level of production, the team will have a legitimate opportunity to challenge for the Eastern Conference's #1 seed. Those are big ifs, but with the coaching of Tom Thibodeau and Rose's continuned high-level of play, they're not out of the question.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are young and it shows. Blake Griffin is the most exciting player the franchise has ever had--and a virtually lock for Rookie of the Year--and he has performed beyond all reasonable expectations. However, with the injury to up-and-comer Eric Gordon, Griffin has been forced into having to do more for the team. This extra effort was apparent last night with Griffin shooting 13 free throws, but unfortunately he only made four. Griffin is going to be the focus of each opponent's defensive attack for the rest of the season--and probably for a good part of his career. Teams are not going to let him repeatedly dunk or otherwise rely on his athleticism to beat them, even though there will be times when teams simply cannot stop him, much like Chicago during the first half of last night's game. Teams are going to start fouling Griffin more to slow him down, and if he can't make his free throws consistently, he and the Clippers will be in trouble.
The Clippers are not likely to make a playoff run this year, but they have to like what they have seen from their young players. Randy Foye has come in after Eric Gordon's injury and shown flashes of the player who was a lottery pick in the 2006 draft and Baron Davis has shown renewed interest in the game of basketball. However, neither player is elite. Blake Griffin is elite and needs an elite player to join him. Eric Gordon could be that player, but he hasn't developed into it just yet and could face setbacks due to his wrist injury. Furthermore, Griffin has the team playing at a high-enough level that they are not likely to secure a high draft pick in the upcoming NBA Draft lottery again, which will make it difficult for the Clippers to add another young star to their team.
Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin are two of the most exciting players the NBA has seen in the last ten years. If they both remain healthy, they are likely to enjoy Hall of Fame careers, and will provide fans with plenty of memorable moments. However, it'll be equally disappointing to NBA fans if Wednesday's game becomes a microcosm for Griffin's career and not just his first season. If Griffin ends up stuck on irrelevant teams, people will forget about how special a player he is and eventually the physics-defying feats will occur in front of less and less sets of eyes. Blake Griffin will never send up an SOS signal; never publically ask for anyone's help, but last night was an indication that he needs it. Otherwise, he'll be swallowed up by the rest of the league; boxed away through triple teams and overly physical defense. And the worst that could happen would be Blake Griffin becoming marginalized, especially since you know just how hard he would fight to prevent it.