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BILL PLASCHKE

Clippers' Blake Griffin makes a splash, but not on the court

Griffin spends most of the Clippers' Game 1 loss to the Warriors on the bench in foul trouble, and he fouls out in crunch time.

April 19, 2014|Bill Plaschke

There was less than a minute remaining, the score was tied, and where was the Clippers' most valuable player, biggest star and human billboard?

Blake Griffin was standing on the sidelines having just fouled out. He was angrily staring up at the giant video screen. In his right hand he was holding a paper cup filled with water. Suddenly, he shouted something, spread his arms out in disgust, and dumped the entire cup over his right shoulder.

Where it, um, coincidentally emptied upon a courtside fan wearing a Golden State Warriors T-shirt.

The suddenly soaking man shouted in surprise. Griffin ignored his cries, tossed the empty cup toward him, and walked down to his seat. It looked intentional. Griffin said it wasn't. The only sad certainty is that it was the most dramatic act by the Clippers' most dramatic player during the Warriors' stunning 109-105 victory in their postseason opener at Staples Center.

Griffin's statement in the Clippers' first chance to make a playoff statement? Nineteen minutes, six baskets, three rebounds, one baptism.

"I was like, 'Bro, I'm just trying to watch the game and now I'm all wet,'" said Will Meldman, the 23-year-old San Francisco resident who was doused.

Meldman said he didn't think it was intentional, but his buddy Justin Wolf disagreed.

"For sure, he was frustrated, and he saw us, and he just threw the water backward," Wolf said.

When asked about the incident during his postgame news conference, Griffin quickly claimed that the cup wasn't actually full, and then shrugged.

"I heard [the fan] say something, I didn't know exactly what I did … if I did, I apologize," he said before lowering his voice. "It was water."

It may have been only water, but this was not only a game, it was the spring unveiling of a potential championship contender against an outmanned and undersized opponent. It was the first Clippers playoff game where an opposing coach, Golden State's Mark Jackson, actually said, "If I'm sitting in the other room [with TV announcers], I'm picking the Clippers."

It was a raucous arena filled with red shirts, fireworks smoke, Donna Summer beats, and public-address announcer Eric Smith shouting, "This is playoff basketball..Clipper Nation on your feet!"

Everyone stood, it seemed, but Griffin, who spent most of the game on the bench biting a towel. It is not a place where MVP candidates spend big moments. It is not how team leaders lead. Yet it was exactly the spot where critics have claimed that Griffin always seems to end up in the spring.

This season it was supposed to be different. This season Griffin took the huge step toward becoming one of the league's elite players. Or did he?

"When our guy only plays 19 minutes, it's tough," Chris Paul said. "I kept telling B, 'I need you, I need you.'"

Griffin seemingly had a greater need to prove his toughness. He began the game as if wanting to personally flatten every Warrior in retaliation for Klay Thompson's earlier assertions that he was a flopper. He had two fouls in the first four minutes, then, early in the second quarter, he drove directly into Marreese Speights, knocking the Warrior on his back and knocking himself out of the game.

The three officials — Mike Callahan, Ron Garretson and Sean Wright — clearly had heard the pregame sabre rattling and were calling the game far too tightly. But they were calling it the same for both teams. Yet Griffin, who has issues with self-control after tying for the league lead with 16 technical fouls, couldn't figure it out.

"I kept putting myself in a hole, in a bad situation," Griffin said. "It affected our team, obviously. I've got to do a better job."

His final foul came after he missed a layup, then missed a tip, then shoved David Lee. It was an act of frustration that was perhaps repeated moment later when he gave the guy in the bright yellow T-shirt a bath.

Said J.J. Redick: "We need him to stay on the court, we need him to play 40 minutes and be involved."

Said Griffin: "Its hard to know what you can get away with and what you've can't. …I've got to be smarter in those situations"

After Griffin left, the Clippers committed two turnovers and missed two free throws in the final 40 seconds to collapse at the brightly colored sneakers of the hustling Warriors.

To win this series, the Clippers must now win at least one game at Golden State's Oracle Arena, the NBA's answer to the Raiders' black hole, a loud and hostile place where the Clippers have lost five consecutive games and 15 of their last 17.

It is a series that will now test the coach, Doc Rivers, who was specifically hired for this occasion. But more than that, it is a series that now begs for the power, and presence, of Blake Griffin.

He needs to make it rain, but he needs to do it on the court.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

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