Clippers power forward Blake Griffin is fouled by Mavericks center Brendan… (Ronald Martinez / Getty…)
Reporting from Dallas — They blew it.
Chris Paul played as if he was wearing mittens. As big as Texas is, Blake Griffin couldn't have hit the state if he were given a free shot at it.
Had Randy Foye been blindfolded, the results might have been the same: 0 for 7 from the field.
Yet Caron Butler came that close with just seconds remaining from drilling a three-pointer and maybe leading the Clippers to a win over Dallas.
So do with this what you want: Moral victory or just another loss.
What's more interesting, and longer lasting as far as the Clippers go, is the maturation of Griffin. Two nights ago he's highlights' Nos. 1 & 2 on ESPN's "SportsCenter"; Monday night, he's just lousy.
The kid is only 22, and it's hard to remember — given the ferocity of his play — how dominate he can be. As a rule, there's so much to take for granted given his level of talent and production.
But it's a grind, everyone wanting a piece of him now as he excites both home and away fans. Throw in the TV commercials, the smirk for the camera on occasion and summer fun with Will Ferrell and ask why he has shut himself down?
Now it's as if he's walking around with blinders on. Some of those who travel regularly with the Clippers have taken notice of the guarded change in Griffin.
"You don't even say 'hi' to folks that you know anymore is what I'm being told," I say to Griffin as teammate Ryan Gomes walks by.
"Hey, what's up, Ryan — hi," gushes Griffin, as quick with the wit as he is the last step to the hoop.
Griffin then acts as if he hasn't seen DeAndre Jordan in weeks.
"Good to see you, DJ," Griffin gushes, while yelling hello to Trey Thompkins. The message is delivered: he's still capable of being himself.
"I don't want to say I'm guarded; I'm shy," Griffin explains. "And I'm not as outgoing as people think."
His game says otherwise. It's flamboyant, over the top, and so the expectation is that Griffin will be as well.
"Things are different," Griffin says. "As a rookie you're sort of an underdog, but after that you start to get picked apart a little."
It's hard to imagine anyone picking apart his game, although I will get to his free-throw shooting in a moment.
"I'm not trying to avoid people, but now I'm under a lot more fire," he says, an interesting admission. "In opposing arenas when you lose, the fans don't care. But when you win, you hear it."
That almost speaks to a sensitivity one would never consider Griffin possessing, given the way he imposes his physical will on opponents. But he is still young, and when asked about the highlight of his summer, surprisingly it was his brother's wedding rather than the Hollywood treatment he received.
He's still not far from the security of home, and the national spotlight is unrelenting.
"But don't let it happen," Griffin is told. "Don't shut down your personality; it matches your game."
There is no way of knowing whether he's listening. With the blank look on his face, you sometimes wonder whether he's awake.
"His mother told me one time that she'd be talking to his brother and Blake would act like he wasn't listening," says Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro. "But the next day Blake would almost recite word for word what she had said. He listens."
Five hours after entering the arena for the game, the first player spotted is Griffin, who is waving hello like someone on a cruise ship pulling out of port.
Kids will be kids, and it's good to see Griffin on the big stage, but talk about growing up overnight.
The game is over and now Griffin is making the argument he lost it for his teammates, as tough on himself as he is on his opponents.
"It's on me," says Griffin, who was fighting himself much of the night. "I missed shots, missed free throws, missed an easy layup, missed a dunk, [four] turnovers. All I could do was not let my play affect my teammates and pull them down, but this one is all on me."
Griffin was nine for 17 from the field, a zero from any distance away from the basket and two for nine shooting free throws.
"Some people would do that and wouldn't care," says Paul after detailing every one of his own five turnovers for the gathered media. "But you see how much he cares.
"That guy right there is scary now, and as Blake continues to get better, it is light's out; everybody better watch out. He's one of those guys that when he misses shots that he knows he can make, he goes to the gym tonight or tomorrow and beats himself up about it."
It was going so badly at one point in the game, Dallas was intentionally fouling Griffin so he would have to shoot free throws.
"We've got to move on," says Griffin, while grimacing in pain as he pulled his shirt over two raised arms.
But does the kid have the ability to do that yet?
"Yeah, I can move on; I'll be ready by tomorrow," Griffin says.
He really has no choice.
"We're going to keep going to him," says Paul. "That's our horse and we're going to ride him."
A REFEREE slapped Paul with a technical, and a shocked Paul was overheard telling the ref: "I don't swear."
Later he said, "I didn't say one curse word. Do you know what I got a tech for? I said, 'Come on, get out of here.'"
I would think if you tell the referee to leave the arena, the referee might have good cause to blow the whistle.