Chris Paul is probably having the best season of any Los Angeles Clipper, but in terms of sheer star power Laker guard Kobe Bryant and Clipper forward Blake Griffin are two names that I didn’t have to fully type out in order for you to understand who I was referencing. And though the Lakers still lead the Clippers in columns posted daily by a two-to-one margin, the Clips are winning the Pacific division and making a strong bid to unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western conference champions.
That hope took a hit on Sunday as the Thunder kept the Clippers at arm’s length for nearly the entire 108-104 Oklahoma City win. And, in ways that you could see coming, Blake Griffin took a hit to his junk from Serge Ibaka that, as of press time, Ibaka has yet to be suspended for. Ibaka wasn’t even ejected from the game, oddly, after a move that most saw as intentional despite Ibaka’s protests to the contrary.
“I probably would have smacked him in the mouth,” Bryant said after practice Monday at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo.
Griffin didn’t get the chance to do that. He understandably slumped to the ground.
“I would’ve dealt with the pain afterwards,” Bryant said.
That is a very dude thing to say. Something one can do after he turns back the clock with one of the better dunks of the season. Something to think about on the ride home while you wish you had a time machine, as Blake Griffin apparently does, to go back and attempt. It’s also pretty stupid.
Kobe Bryant has gotten in fights with Chris Childs, Reggie Miller, and Ray Allen before. He’s also been suspended for incidents involving Mike Miller, Manu Ginobili, and Marko Jaric. He clearly doesn’t like people with Ms in their names, and he’s also the most explosive player on a Lakers team desperately trying to make the playoffs after a miserable start. The Lakers are two and a half games out of the last playoff spot in the West, and if Kobe Bryant would have risen to smack Serge Ibaka in the mouth after a shot to the groin he most assuredly would be suspended for one (if not more) of Los Angeles’ final 22 games.
Which is probably why Kobe Bryant, full of NBA knowledge dating back to 1996, probably wouldn’t have smacked Serge Ibaka. A jaw to jaw confrontation is one thing. A punch or slap is another, suspension-worthy, thing. Bryant knows that just one shot leads to an automatic suspension in this league, and that any escalation wouldn’t be worth it.
This probably wasn’t going through Blake Griffin’s head when he writhed on the floor on Sunday afternoon. What he probably was thinking about was the immense pain the All-Defensive arms of Serge Ibaka just, um, handed to him. It’s easy to be the tough guy in retrospect, and that’s coming from a pugnacious sort that has been in way too many of these things. It’s also easy to expect that you’d be able to immediately get up from a shot to the groin and deal “with the pain afterwards,” while you’re watching from afar.
Kobe Bryant plays through pain, consistently. From his knee drainings to finger issues to the general wear and tear that comes from making a significant impact in the playoffs in just about every season from 1996 (the end of Bill Clinton’s first term) onward. This whole thing probably has less to do with Kobe Bryant pretending to be a badass in the face of nard-versity, and more to do with a shot across the room at a Clipper team that is on pace to win 16 more games than the Lakers this year.
Or, maybe it’s the truth. Maybe Kobe Bryant is the only NBA player left that can take a shot to his gentleman vegetables, stay standing, deliver a retaliatory punch to the mouth, and not get suspended. If those powers are already in place, then perhaps the Lakers will make the playoffs this year.