LOS ANGELES -- When he was finally able to sit down and reflect on his first game-winning, buzzer-beating shot, Blake Griffin was more interested in critiquing the shot than focusing on the end result.
"When I shot it, I thought it was flat, short, off, everything," said Griffin, whose 45 points led the Clippers to their eighth straight win, 121-120 in overtime over the Phoenix Suns on Monday. "But it was good. I got a lucky bounce."
Griffin's feel for his shot now is light-years ahead of where it was two seasons ago, when he could barely make 50 percent from the free throw line, let alone attempt a game-winning 3-pointer. That was before he dedicated himself to improve his form and his outside game by working with Bob Thate, a professional shooting coach who has been Griffin's shadow in the gym.
"Who works more on their shot than Blake?" Clippers coach Doc Rivers asked after the game. "He and Bob Thate work their butt off. Two years ago, Blake wouldn't have the courage to take that shot. Tonight he wanted it. He stepped back and looked for it. That's a courageous shot."
Griffin will be the first to admit his game winner Monday night was more luck than courageous. After Chris Paul inbounded the ball to him, he faked handing the ball back to Paul and stepped back behind the 3-point line for a shot that hit the front of the rim, then hit the top of backboard before finally falling in.
"I don't know what kind of spin he put on that," Rivers said. "That thing stopped, and it was like someone pulled it back in."
"After it hit the rim and went up, I knew it was going in," DeAndre Jordan said. "I just feel like the basketball gods were on our side."
Griffin scored seven of the Clippers' nine points in overtime, but it wasn't until Paul sat down after the game that he realized Griffin finished with 45 points, two shy of his career high.
"He was unbelievable," Paul said. "I didn't know until I looked at the box score after the game that he had 45 [points]. Aside from that, down the stretch, he just kept getting bucket after bucket; and the beating that he takes every night. Even that last play, we were out of timeouts, and he was like, 'I'm going to give it to you,' and I was like, 'No, you might have to keep it,' so we were just back and forth. He made that shot, and it was huge for us. It was just big for our team."
After Griffin hit his game-winning shot, he started to run off the court but was quickly surrounded by his teammates, led by Paul, who wanted to do more than congratulate his teammate.
"The funny thing is when people hit those shots, you usually tackle them," Paul said. "I tried. I tried."
"Core strength," Griffin said with a smile.
Paul is usually the player the Clippers turn to for game-winning or clutch shots at the end of the game, but after seeing how hard Griffin has worked on his shot and how good it looked Monday, Paul told Griffin to look for the final shot when the ball was inbounded to him.
"It's really special," Paul said. "I was telling [Jordan], I've hit a few [buzzer-beaters], but I told him that I don't think that I've been as excited as when [Blake] made this one tonight. I think it was because of the dynamics of the game and how our team is just always talking about fighting through it. A lot of people thought it was over when that jump ball happened. We just found a way and we won."
In the Clippers' huddle late in the fourth quarter and in overtime, players kept telling each other to stick with the game plan and they would figure out a way to win in the end. So many times before when they would lose a lead or get a bad call, they would crumble. This time, and maybe this season, that's not the case.
"We've learned how to close out games," Jordan said, "and how to keep our mental focus throughout the games, even when things aren't going our way. It's definitely different from last year and years before."