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T.J. SIMERS

Focusing on the positives with Clippers amid the negative

Blake Griffin deserves some credit for getting Clippers this far, even as series with Spurs is billed as a foregone conclusion. Is there no patience when it comes to a young guy with so much upside?

May 15, 2012|T.J. Simers

SAN ANTONIO -- As I travel with our local teams across the country, I'm truly amazed to find so many negative columnists working out there.

Must the glass always be half empty?

Instead of writing about their own players, they want to tear into our fine, upstanding athletes. It's just flat-out muckraking.

I sometimes wonder whether Dwyre and I are the only two columnists left in the land who want to always gush about a job well done.

Here we are in the NBA playoffs, the second round ever played by Blake Griffin, and how often do the Clippers ever advance to the second round?

Our kid Griffin deserves some credit for that.

But the columnist in San Antonio, whose first name is Buck and of course it is, ripped into Griffin before Game 1 as if Griffin had spat on the Alamo.

"Griffin, healthy or not," concluded Bucko, "isn't ready for this yet."

Griffin just turned 23. When Bucko was 23, and I checked with him, he was a ski bum lost somewhere in Europe.

Bucko is now one of the best negative columnists in the country, but it took him only 40 years or so to nail it.

Is there no patience when it comes to a young guy playing in only his 156th game?

"Nobody is giving me time to develop," Griffin said without complaint while both knees were wrapped in ice after the Clippers' 108-92 Game 1 loss to the Spurs. "I have years to improve, but for some reason everyone talks now about what I can't do."

Look across the living room and imagine your own uncoordinated blob of a kid getting pounded for not developing fast enough or read this about him as he travels to a far-off city.

"The Clippers will have no choice but to give [Griffin] a max contract this summer," wrote Bucko. "But there are no guarantees — not with his knee, not with his stunted skill set — that he will ever be much more than a car-jumping, Perkins-jamming highlight film."

I've got a feeling if you checked the highlight archives the last few months, our kid Griffin has more than Bucko.

But there I go, sounding like every other fire-breathing, nasty columnist, and so that's what it feels like.

"What Griffin becomes in two years won't change this series," Bucko wrote. "And the Spurs will be ready for what he is now. Playoff game-planning takes away one-dimensional talent, and it is likely Gregg Popovich's staff already has a bead on Griffin."

How mean can you be to cut the legs right out from under a kid when he's already limping on a sore knee? Later in the night he will turn an ankle.

"It's not fair," said Coach Vinny Del Negro. "He's not 100%, it is his first playoffs, he just came through a rugged series and there's a learning curve. It doesn't happen overnight."

The fact that he is a marked man, as Bucko wrote, suggests the Spurs must think more highly of him than the local columnist.

"Here's something Griffin should count on: Shooting free throws," wrote Bucko. "Griffin likely will get a few dunks too, and maybe he has a shooting night that surprises the Spurs. But over a series? Griffin will be left open in places where the Spurs want to leave him open.

"But if Griffin were further along? If his game had grown as quickly as his fame? He would play in fourth quarters, and he would scare the Spurs."

Griffin didn't make much more than a cameo appearance in the fourth quarter in Memphis because he couldn't stand on a lame knee.

But this is the fine howdy-do that greeted Griffin when he took the court Tuesday night for his eighth career playoff game. The Spurs were expected to overwhelm the Clippers as the Thunder did the Lakers.

It's such a given here, the Spurs didn't even pass out T-shirts to their fans. No slogans other than just show up.

Can't argue with that, especially if Blake and Chris Paul are nowhere near capable of playing healthy with the next three games coming in a span of four nights.

"I wasn't good enough tonight," said Griffin, who refuses to excuse himself because of the sore knee.

Griffin led the Clippers with 10 points in the first half but played the third quarter as of his feet were nailed to the floor. He finished the game on guts with 15 points and nine rebounds, but there are no awards in the playoffs for playing hard.

Paul did the same, but with a groin injury to go along with his hip flexor pull, the best he could do was go three-for-13 shooting.

The Clippers closed to within eight in the fourth quarter, but without their top two players, they eventually got blitzed.

The Spurs won't care and Bucko will feel as if he called it. I have no idea how negative columnists live with themselves.

It will be time to play here again Thursday, and if the Clippers expect to throw a scare into the Spurs, they will need more from Griffin and Paul. It's that simple.

"I don't know what everyone expects," said Griffin, who gives as good as he gets as the body blows add up.

"I expect a lot of myself, but at same time I know this is a process. I look around the league, and sure some guys have early success but for most it takes time to develop. I'm not going to stay the same player for the next 10 years."

And here's where the negative and positive columnists separate themselves. How much fun have we already had in Lob City with the kid learning on the job, knowing some day he will be the one schooling everyone else?

Or as he put it, Bucko: "Don't underestimate the power of someone who works hard."

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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