LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin will not win the NBA MVP award.
This is not a revelation, of course. The odds of him even finishing second probably are not worthy of getting on the boards in Las Vegas.
But if he finishes the season the way he has played up until this point -- and if the Clippers make a push for the top seed in the West -- there’s no reason he shouldn’t finish third in the race behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
On Monday night, Griffin scored 37 points -- 22 in the first quarter -- as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 112-105. It was the 23rd straight game in which Griffin scored at least 20 points, the most in franchise history. Last month he earned his first player of the month honors for being one of only two players in the league to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds per game in February.
“He’s just doing a lot of stuff; I wish you could see him,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He works out so much. Long before practices start. He works on that bank shot over and over again. He got it going again tonight, which is a great sign. I like that he’s using it.”
That Griffin is part of the MVP conversation this season shows how much he has improved his game, especially in the absence of Chris Paul for 20 games, when the Clippers went 14-6 without their All-Star point guard.
Griffin’s first 35 points Monday came after going 14-of-15 from the field and hitting his first six free throw attempts.
His night ended early, however, as he fouled out in the fourth quarter after he got involved in a tussle with Suns forward P.J. Tucker, who was ejected for punching Griffin.
“Blake gets hit as much as anyone in the league,” Rivers said. “We have all seen it. It’s gets old. It really does. I think he’s doing the right thing. He puts his arms up, because if he reacts the way some people think he should, then he gets thrown out and suspended and it hurts the team. I know it’s very difficult for him, but he’s doing the right thing for the team.”
It’s not the first time Griffin has been involved in a skirmish after getting under the skin of an opponent. It also likely won’t be the last for Griffin, who is averaging a career-high 24.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game and is shooting about 70 percent from the free throw line this season.
“He just works on his game and he’s getting the payment,” Rivers said. “He’s putting in the deposits and now he’s getting some cash back.”
How it happened: The Clippers were in control of this game through three quarters. They led by 11 in the first quarter, 20 in the second quarter and 25 in the third quarter -- before things began to unravel in the fourth quarter. The Suns got to within four points toward the end of the game with Griffin out. However, for the second game in a row, the Clippers were able to hold on for a win that should not have been as dramatic.
What it means: The win gives the Clippers a 4 1/2-game cushion atop the Pacific Division and essentially ties them with the Houston Rockets for the third seed. They are 2 1/2 games back of the top seed in the Western Conference.
Hits: With his 37 points, Griffin now has scored at least 20 points in 23 straight games. Paul had 17 points and 11 assists. Darren Collison added 20 points, while DeAndre Jordan had eight points and 17 rebounds.
Misses: The Clippers got a spark off the bench from Danny Granger, who scored 14 points and connected on two 3-pointers. But that was about it from the second unit. Glen Davis had only two points, and Hedo Turkoglu scored one.
Stat of the game: Griffin scored 22 points in the first quarter. It was one point shy of the team record for points in a quarter by a player. Baron Davis had 23 in 2010, and Randy Smith had 23 in 1973.
Up next: The Clippers will get Tuesday off before playing the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday in L.A. There are a few teams the Clippers don’t particularly care for but none more so than the Warriors, who they might see in the first round of the playoffs. The home team has won every game in the series this season, with the Warriors winning the past two in Oakland.