The Celtics continue to reap the benefits of their signing of veteran forward Blake Griffin, as the regular season is winding down and the playoffs are less than a month away.
In the team's 134-125 win over the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night, Griffin once again proved why he can be called upon despite very limited playing time so far this year -- finishing with eight points on 4-of-6 from the field to go along with five rebounds, an assist, one block and a steal in 15 quality minutes off the bench.
When asked on how Griffin has been as a teammate since arriving in Boston, All-Star Jayson Tatum had nothing but glowing things to say not just about what we've seen on the court but the stuff we don't see off of it.
"It's been unique to see just his attitude every day," said Tatum during his postgame presser. "Doesn't play for two weeks and then, certain guys out, he might play four or five games in a row. Takes the first bus. On off days he plays pickup with the guys that maybe don't play and (need) to keep their cardio up. You just don't see that with guys that were at his level."It's been really unique to see. I appreciate that a lot. The guys do as well. He never makes it about himself, and it's contagious. His energy, his enthusiasm, his personality. We're all very fortunate to have him as a teammate because everybody respects him and respects what he's accomplished. And his voice carries."He's somebody that's always going to be ready when his number is called and, literally, will do whatever it takes from game to game to just contribute, however many minutes he gets, you know he's gonna bust his ass."
Tatum, who led the Celtics with 34 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, opened his press conference by speaking highly of Griffin -- who clearly has had a positive effect on him and the rest of a roster that is seeking to compete for an NBA championship this season.
Griffin's energy has made an impact on his Celtics teammates from his different pregame handshakes, showing support from the bench throughout games that he plays in or not and of course his constant professionalism that can never be understated for a former superstar in this league now embracing a new role.
"Just having somebody that everybody respects, has accomplished a lot, is in a different role than we're used to seeing him in, and just to see his attitude is all about winning," said Tatum. "If somebody that has a Hall of Fame resume can buy in and just be that selfless, it just carries throughout the entire team."
Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla obviously also has an appreciation for the infectious energy that Griffin has brought to the roster, especially with the increase of playing time lately, Mazzulla values the veteran staying ready no matter the situation.
"His emotional, mental, physical toughness. His ability to keep plays alive. His ability to make the toughness plays, whether it's charge, deflections, loose balls, offensive rebounds, screening," Mazzulla said to reporters Saturday night. "There are certain people, and he's one of them, that, when he's on the floor, everybody else is better. Because of his experience and his toughness and the way he plays, he does that."
With playing ahead of Grant Williams, Luke Kornet and trade-deadline acquisition Mike Muscala as of late, it's not a coincidence that the Griffin has a plus-9.5 rating in just 30 appearances out of the Celtics' 68 games so far -- which is third on the team behind Derrick White and big man Robert Williams III (each at a plus-9.9). He is also second in taking charges with 11, trailing White who has 13.
"Blake is just a very smart, savvy player," said Al Horford in postgame comments. "On the defensive end, he's trying to impact the game however he can, and then, on offense, he's finding his spots and everything he brings, he lifts our group. It's just good to see him getting some minutes here and showing a different side that our group has."
Look for Mazzulla to ride the Griffin wave with five games remaining on the Celtics' current road trip out west, even if the forward is averaging a career-low 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest, he's clearly worth so much more that what the box score reads.
Photo used courtesy of Getty Images
Photo used courtesy of Getty Images