When Serge Ibaka received only a fine and not a suspension or ejection for hitting Blake Griffin in the groin area during the Clippers’ loss to the Thunder on March 3 I realized a key variable is missing from the Clippers’ roster.
That missing variable is a player who can be the team enforcer to protect Clippers players, especially Griffin, from opponents’ overly-aggressive behavior. Someone like a Rick Fox, a Dennis Rodman or a Bill Laimbeer from the Bad Boys of Detroit.
Griffin, an aggressive and highly-physical player, gets mauled under the basket every game with double and triple-teams. Since he’s a disciplined player, Griffin keeps his emotions in check and never retaliates because he knows his value to the success of the team. He manages to keep his composure and avoids ejections and suspensions at all costs, even after a punch to the groin.
“If I started swinging every time I got my jersey tugged at, I’d probably be swinging on every single play,” Griffin said. “It’s not really my job to run around and start punching people because that doesn’t really solve anything. It really just gets me in trouble and I don’t want that, especially at that point and time (after Ibaka’s punch) I didn’t need to get into a scuffle with the game on the line and us trying to claw our way back in it.”
Much has changed in how the game is officiated since that 1987 Eastern Conference Finals game 5 between the Celtics and Pistons when Parish punched Laimbeer in the face and wasn’t given a foul. Today, that would be a flagrant and probably a multiple-game suspension.
“It’s just part of the game. You’ve got to be physical, you’ve got to control your emotions, you’ve got to be disciplined,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said after the game in response to a question about Ibaka’s transgression. Yes, a player should be disciplined, but should also protect their manhood.
The closest the Clippers have to an enforcer mentality is Chris Paul. He’s mighty, but too small to contend with bigger players in the league. He bounces off bigger players and goes tumbling to the floor. Matt Barnes is another possibility, but although aggressive, he’s a bit too skinny to take on that role.
As the regular season winds down, play is going to heat up as teams compete for the eight positions available for the playoffs. The Clippers need to be disciplined but also have that enforcer mentality. No opposing player should come to Staples Center and think they can get away with what Ibaka did on March 3.