Blake Griffin was well aware of the rumors surrounding his demise as a basketball player. However, it appears that the Nets center has been reincarnated as a go-to glue guy.
In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Nets smothered Milwaukee with a stellar defensive effort, and it was Griffin who set the tone early.
“He always plays with that good energy, fire to him. They counted him out at the beginning of this year so he’s got something to prove,” said Bruce Brown. “He’s playing really well and he’s gonna continue that.”
Brown, the Nets’ defensive sparkplug on the perimeter, is well aware of this. On the other end of the floor, Brown disrupted All-Star Khris Middleton, while Griffin had the unenviable task of working against Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he proved up to the challenge.
“Yeah, they’ve been awesome,” Joe Harris said. “I think just the level of intensity, no matter who Bruce or BG is guarding, they’re doing all the little stuff — you have consistent ball pressure, you have a level of physicality and any sort of 50-50 ball, it seems like Blake is getting on it.
“Guys are sacrificing their body and the level of communication, whatever it might be, those guys are the constant sort of quarterback on the defensive end, and a night like [this] is no different.”
Griffin finished with a 96.2 Defensive Rating despite guarding Antetokounmpo for the majority of the night. During the regular season, the two-time MVP averaged 39.7 points per game against the Nets, leading the Bucks to a 2-1 season series win. Griffin, on the other hand, assisted in limiting him to 18 points on Monday.
Antetokounmpo was 2-for-7 from the free-throw line and missed all three of his 3-point attempts. Instead of putting up a timer on the Jumbotron to time his free throws during Saturday’s Game 1 win, the Barclays Center put up Mr. Whammy on Monday night.
From the charity stripe, the Greek Freak is now 2-for-10.
Some may have been surprised by Brown’s defensive prowess this season, but Durant and Kyrie Irving were not. Last offseason, the two ran impromptu pickup games in Los Angeles, and Brown made an impression on them. Following that, the Nets went out and bought him.
“Me and Ky talked about it once we got Bruce that playing against him the last two years. I mean, nobody really knew him in Detroit, but when you play against him and you got him in the scouting report he kind of disrupted our flow when I was in Golden State one game,” Durant said. “I was like who is this kid?
“He was a second-round pick, I didn’t hear of him, I didn’t watch him in college. We knew he played with extreme passion and intensity and whenever he had got a chance early on he wasn’t playing for us but whenever he got a chance, we knew he was going to come in and make an impact.”
Harden (right hamstring tightness), Green (left plantar fascia strain), and Dinwiddie (partially torn ACL, right knee) were all ruled out of Game 2. Green could potentially play in Game 3 or 4 in Milwaukee, though the Nets haven’t provided an official timeline.
Coach Steve Nash said, “Nothing new on James.” “I know Jeff is doing well, and we’re hoping he’ll be back soon. But there’s nothing concrete right now.”
Game 2 was started by Irving, Brown, Harris, Durant, and Griffin.
The Nets have only used that lineup four times this season: on April 18 in Miami (a 109-107 loss in which Durant left after four minutes with a left thigh contusion), on May 8 in Denver (a 125-119 win), and three days later in Chicago (a 115-107 victory).