Blake Griffin is elevating the Clippers to new heights

Coming into this season, the Los Angeles Clippers figured to slide a bit after Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets for a first-round draft pick, some cash, and a bevy of role players.  And yet, here we are, four games into the season and the Clippers have been the best team in the NBA.

In the season opener, Patrick Beverley tormented rookie Lonzo Ball and kept the now 2-2 Lakers under 100 points, the only team to do so thus far.

The following game, the Clippers blew the roof off of Staples Center by hammering the Phoenix Suns, 130-88. The 42-point margin of defeat wasn’t even Phoenix’s worst loss of the young season, as the Portland Trail Blazers manhandled them 124-76 in the season opener (keep that tidbit in mind).

Game three featured a strong second-half showing after a slow start, with the Clippers eventually making posters out of the Utah Jazz.

And last night, in the team’s first true road game of the season, the Clippers pulled out a heart-stopping win in Portland thanks to a buzzer-beating three from Blake Griffin.

Thanks in no small part to the stupendous play of Griffin, the Clippers have been able to get beyond the loss of Chris Paul in surprising fashion. He leads the team in points per game (26.3) and assists per game (4.5), is second in rebounds per game (9.3), and is – get this – THIRD in three-point shooting (43.5%).

Prior to this season, Griffin never finished higher than fifth on the team in three-point percentage. His best year from behind the arc came in 2014-15, when he was the squad’s fifth-best shooter and made 40 percent of his attempts from deep.

His worst season came in his second year, when he was a paltry 12.5 percent three-point shooter in 2011-12 (it should be noted that that was Chris Paul’s first season in Los Angeles).

Now, the Clippers are without three-ball specialists Paul, J.J. Redick (signed with Philadelphia), and Jamal Crawford (signed with Minnesota). But rookie Sindarius Thornwell has helped fill the void well, leading the team with a 50 percent mark from the arc. Beverley (2nd – 47.4%) and Eurpoean import Miloš Teodosić (4th – 42.9%) have also been threats from deep, but Teodosić missed the Utah and Portland games and is out indefinitely with a foot injury.

There was no doubt that Griffin would need to step up and fill the leadership role after Paul was shipped out, and he’s done that and more. His otherworldly play is nothing surprising, but for nearly all his career, the Clippers have been a two-man show. Now that he’s unquestionably the biggest star on the team, Griffin has absorbed that responsibility beautifully, and is showing just how good of a team player he can be. As long as he stays healthy, that $173 million contract he signed in June will be worth every penny.

A win tomorrow would match the best start in team history, when the 1985-86 Clippers opened at 5-0. Aside from that year, this is the fourth time in franchise history they've started 4-0 (2015-16, 2007-08, and 1975-76 (in Buffalo)).

It’s still early, and there are 78 more games to play as this thing unfolds, but if Griffin maintains this standard of play and continues to better the guys around him as they build chemistry (eight of the team’s 13 players were not Clippers last season, after all), this could be the season they finally make a deep playoff run.

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