Los Angeles — In the past week, the Pistons have seen their share of outstanding offensive players, from Kristaps Porzingis to Joel Embiid to Karl-Anthony Towns.
It’s been taxing on the big men to try to guard them, but the Pistons won two of the three games. Saturday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers and Blake Griffin didn’t provide any kind of respite. With the big offseason trade sending point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, the Clippers retooled their roster.
In the process, they redefined Griffin’s role in the offense, turning him into 6-foot-10 do-it-all dynamo, who presents as many defensive problems as any of the others they faced this week. The other three aren’t as big a threat to go off the dribble, but Griffin as about as good as they come.
“Blake can hurt you in so many ways. And now he’s shooting the 3 really well,” coach Stan Van Gundy said Saturday morning. “He can shoot the 3, drive the ball, back you under the rim and the most underrated part of Blake’s game since he came into the league is that he’s a terrific passer.
“He’s definitely the best passing forwards in the league.”
In the other three cases, there wasn’t much choice about who would defend, but with Griffin’s versatility and athleticism, it’s something of a head-scratcher. Does Stanley Johnson, at 6-7, provide the best option or Tobias Harris, at 6-9?
“Stanley may be on him some. We’ll probably have a lot of people take a shot,” Van Gundy said. “It makes it tough. He’s a hard guy to guard one-on-one and a hard guy to double-team. Where does that leave you?
“Blake’s a really good player and now without Chris Paul, they’re playing through him even more, so it’s a really difficult matchup and our team defense against him is going to have to be terrific.”
In previous years, Van Gundy tried Marcus Morris and others, but it’s just been one of those matchups that’s hard to figure out. With Griffin’s ability to handle on the perimeter, drive and finish and post-up, there aren’t very many who can match up with him easily.
Van Gundy said the issue has been foul trouble, which is a bigger problem this season, especially for Johnson, as he’s had some difficult assignments.
The challenge that Van Gundy has for Johnson is to stay disciplined and not try to do too much. That’s why it’s more of a team responsibility than just on one individual player.
“He’s not just a low-post guy; he’s a pick-and-roll guy and will handle the ball on pick-and-rolls,” he said. “They run a lot of pick-and-rolls where he’s handling and (DeAndre) Jordan is setting the pick.
“Blake is a very versatile guy and over the course of this year, they’re going to see more versatility out of him because they don’t have Chris Paul or J.J. Redick, so they’re leaning on him even more in the things he can do offensively.”
Through four games, Griffin posted 26.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists, hitting 44 percent on 3-pointers and 54 percent from the field. That includes the winning 3-pointer against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.
Along with their potent offense, the Clippers also have one of the best defensive units in the league, with the addition of Patrick Beverley to replace Paul. Add Jordan and Griffin and it’s easy to see why they rank third in the league in defense.
“Chris Paul is a very good defender, but they didn’t lose anything in the deal getting Patrick Beverley. They’re still really good on the defensive end,” Van Gundy said. “The defensive thing is certainly not a fluke. This is certainly going to be one of the best defensive teams all season long.”
PISTONS AT WARRIORS
Tip-off: 8:30 Sunday, Oracle Arena, Oakland
Outlook: The back-to-back doesn’t get much easier between the league’s last undefeated team and the defending champions. The Warriors (4-2) have won three straight after starting 1-2.