LOS ANGELES -- There was a time when Blake Griffin would get pushed around and fight back.
It would happen almost daily. Griffin would get manhandled, get frustrated, lose his cool, and eventually lose the game he was playing.
"When I was little and I would play my older brother, and he was whupping me and I couldn't do anything, I used to fight," Griffin said. "I used to get mad, I used to grab him, I used to swing at him, I used to do all this stuff. Now it's not really that frustrating. You take it as another tactic and you move on. Sometimes that's what it comes down to."
Griffin has seen the tactic used against him more times than he cares to remember this season. It's not entirely his opponents' fault. Griffin doesn't have a first or second gear. He's constantly stuck in fourth gear. Most of us can handle someone wired like that only in small doses. And that's just in social settings. Put that kind of personality on a basketball court, where you are constantly pushing and shoving each other below the basket for four quarters, and tensions are bound to boil over at some point.
That was the case Monday night when Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker was jostling with Griffin in the paint and the two players ended up on the ground, with Griffin on top of Tucker and Tucker trying to free himself by forearming Griffin in the face.
Tucker was ejected from the game and suspended one game. Griffin, as is usually the case, turned the other cheek, finished the game with 37 points on 14-of-16 shooting, and the Clippers beat the Suns.
"I just assess the play as it happens," Griffin said. "That's not to say I wasn't going to [fight back], but in the moment I don't want to put my team in a bad situation. I don't want to put myself in a bad situation. You have to weigh the pros and cons at that point. I don't know what we were up by, but I know we were up by double digits, and just to do something stupid, to get kicked out, to get suspended, doesn't help. We already have injuries; we already have guys who are banged-up. We don't need that."
Wednesday's game against the Golden State Warriors likely will be another time when Griffin's patience will be tested. No team gets under Griffin's and the Clippers' skin more than the Warriors. Griffin was ejected for the second time in his career on Christmas Day when he got into separate altercations with the Warriors' Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut.
"Blake gets hit as much as anyone in the league," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "We have all seen it. It gets old. It really does. I think he's doing the right thing. I really do. He's doing the right thing. He puts his arms up, because if he reacts like some people say he should, he gets thrown out, gets suspended, and it hurts the team. I know it's very difficult for him, but he's doing the right thing for the team."
Griffin's ability to restrain himself and not swing back hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates, who watch firsthand the number of hard fouls and cheap shots he takes on a nightly basis without much of a response. The Clippers are just three games away from the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and know closing that gap would be impossible if Griffin did something to get himself suspended for a couple of games.
"I told Blake during that altercation that it's crazy being his teammate and seeing every night the different fouls and the different things that he takes," Paul said. "He sacrifices so much for us. He could have easily punched back and got to fighting, but he didn't. I don't know how he does it, but that's pretty selfless of him -- because he could do that, and now he's suspended for a few games and that hurts our team. It's huge. He's stronger than me."
There was a time when it worked to play Griffin physically and pepper him with occasional cheap shots. He would get frustrated, lose his focus and miss his free throws. Now, he smiles when players approach playing him the same way they did two years ago. Not only is he averaging a career-high 24.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, but he's also hitting 70 percent of his free throws. He no longer tries to avoid contact in the paint, he welcomes it.
"It's crazy what he goes through every single night," Darren Collison said. "He just keeps getting better and better regardless of who's trying to play physical with him. To me, right now it doesn't work. There's been numerous times he's been in some type of scuffle, and he continues to get better and better each game and throughout the game, as well. Blake's really showing maturity, too, by not retaliating. He's taking a lot of hits, but that's what the playoffs are going to be about. We're ready for it, he's ready for it, and we're going to continue to play through it."