LOS ANGELES — You knew it was coming.
It was only a matter of time.
It took just two games to take center stage in this Western Conference semifinals.
Blake Griffin is back to his old tricks, mucking up games with annoying antics that have little to do with basketball. His exploits thus far against the Thunder have been more effective than his play.
The Los Angeles Clippers forward already has gotten into multiple mild altercations with Thunder players that have threatened to turn a series that should be an offensive shootout into a slugfest and a beloved hometown kid into a villain.
Seven technical fouls have been issued through two games, and Griffin, despite being at the center of several confrontations, has walked away each time smiling, scot-free.
As the Thunder prepares for Game 3 against the Clippers on Friday night, OKC is getting a sampling of how Griffin gets the best of opponents in a different way.
In Game 1, Griffin suckered Serge Ibaka into a technical foul when he snared Ibaka’s foot while lying on his backside. After taking exception to Griffin’s subtle but strategic ploy, Ibaka attempted to separate his foot by kicking it away from Griffin’s ankles. The nearby official, of course, didn’t catch Griffin intentionally bring his feet together to trap Ibaka. But he did see Ibaka angrily kick his foot away, an action that resulted in a technical foul.
“I was just laying on the ground, and he just kind of kicked me,” Griffin sheepishly explained when asked about the incident after the game.
Griffin tried to conceal a guilty smile. Too late. He was busted.
It’s calculated run-ins such as these that prevent Griffin from becoming a full-blown league darling. His popular Kia commercials might endear him to casual fans, but the most ardent observers see him for something else, a player who baits opponents into reactionary actions while pretending to be oblivious to why he’s a target once the referee turns his attention to the situation.
It’s a strategy that has tainted Griffin’s remarkable basketball ability in NBA circles and turned him into one of the most loathed players in the league.
Griffin, perhaps smartly, doesn’t seem to care.
In Game 2 on Wednesday night, Griffin got tangled up with Steven Adams, the Thunder rookie center who has a growing reputation as an agitator. It was Griffin, however, who got the benefit of the doubt from officials each time the two got tangled.
Griffin’s actions went a long way in Adams being whistled for three fouls in 17 minutes. The most laughable came as Adams transitioned down the court and Griffin intentionally slowed up and allowed Adams to run into him.
But the Thunder might just have to play through the small stuff for the rest of the series.
Griffin is simply doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s searching for any advantage he can against the Thunder. He’s using trivial tactics to get inside his defender’s head. And, to this point, it’s worked. Thunder players have been taken to task by the officials while Griffin walks away without consequence.
It’s been Griffin’s most effective strategy.
Oklahoma City has done an exceptional job to this point of limiting Griffin. In these first two games, he’s averaged 19 points on just 41.4 percent shooting, along with 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 0.5 blocks. Each of those figures is well below what the second runner-up for MVP averaged in the regular season. Those statistics also don’t come close to Griffin’s production in the Clippers’ opening-round series against Golden State.
In Game 2, Griffin finished with a mere 15 points on 13 shots. His ineffectiveness became a leading reason this series shifts to Los Angeles deadlocked at one game apiece as opposed to the Clippers owning a commanding 2-0 lead.
Griffins’s antics might be annoying. But the Thunder will gladly live with them if that’s the best he’s got to offer in this series.