Blake Griffin came tearing into the N.B.A. in 2010 after being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009 for the Clippers, earning five consecutive All-Star selections. In later years, he continued to score around 20 points a game, but began to be hampered by injuries, and the Clippers finally traded him to the Pistons last January. His days as an elite player seemed to be over.
Then, improbably on Tuesday night, for the first time in his career, Griffin scored 50 points, in a 133-132 overtime win over the 76ers. He capped the effort with the game-winner: a driving layup and free throw with two seconds left in overtime. He looked rejuvenated at age 29.
His 50 points did not come in the typical manner of a 6-foot-10 power forward. Griffin tied career highs in 3-pointers made (five) and attempted (10). At times he looked more like a point guard, bringing the ball up, executing behind-the-back dribbles and spin moves. But he used his big frame to his advantage too: Many of his 2-pointers came on drives as he muscled back defenders.
And it wasnât just scoring. He also had 14 rebounds and six assists.
His previous career high was 47 points in 2011. Last season, his high was only 33. But this season he poured in 26 and 33 in his first two games, and he is the early league leader in scoring at 36.3 per game.
Griffin credited his improved play to good health: âBeing able to work out for the first time in three summers is huge,â he told ESPN. âThe last three summers, I was fighting and working as hard as I could to get healthy to be able to play.â
The Pistons have made the playoffs just twice in the last 10 years, and lost both of those series, four game to none. Their hopes this season rest on the big man combo of Griffin and center Andre Drummond. If Griffin can fill it up the way he did Tuesday night, it could take scoring pressure off Drummond, who is a rebounding machine most comfortable scoring 15 or so a night.
For the Pistons to surprise people in the East, Griffin will also have to avoid injury. (He missed the entire 2009-10 and played in only 35 games in 2015-16.) And they will have to find someone to hit consistent jump shots from outside from a group that includes Ish Smith, Reggie Bullock and Reggie Jackson, none of them worldbeaters.
On the other hand, given Griffinâs long-range shooting on Tuesday, maybe heâs that guy, too.