Blake Griffin becoming tone-setter in new Nets role

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Blake Griffin heard all the talk of his basketball demise. But it turns out the Nets center has just been reincarnated as a do-it-all glue guy.

The Nets smothered Milwaukee with a stellar defensive effort in Monday’s Eastern Conference semifinal Game 2, and it was Griffin who set an early tone.

“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’ resident perimeter defensive sparkplug, knows something about that. He and Griffin made tons of hustle plays on that end of the floor, Brown disrupting All-Star Khris Middleton while Griffin had the unenviable task of working against Giannis Antetokounmpo, and proved up to the task.

“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.

Blake Griffin guards Giannis Antetokounmpo
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“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 solid 96.2 Defensive Rating, and that despite spending much of his night guarding Antetokounmpo. The two-time reigning MVP had averaged 39.7 points against the Nets in the regular season in leading the Bucks to a 2-1 season-series win. But Griffin helped hold him to 18 on Monday.

Antetokounmpo missed all three of his 3-point attempts and was just 2-for-7 from the free-throw line. After Barclays Center had put up a timer on the Jumbotron in Saturday’s Game 1 win to time his free throws, instead they put up Mr. Whammy on Monday night.

The Greek Freak is now 2-for-10 from the charity stripe.

Brown’s defensive prowess this season may have come as a shock to some, but not Durant and Kyrie Irving. The two ran ad hoc pickup games in Los Angeles last offseason, and recalled the impact Brown had during them. The Nets went out and acquired him afterward.

“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.”

James Harden (right hamstring tightness), Jeff Green (left plantar fascia strain) and Spencer Dinwiddie (partially torn ACL, right knee) were all out for Game 2. The Nets offered no official timetable on any, but Green could conceivably play in Game 3 or 4 in Milwaukee.

“No, nothing new on James,” coach Steve Nash said. “Jeff I know is progressing well and we’re hopeful he’ll be back soon. But nothing definitive right now.”

Irving, Brown, Harris, Durant and Griffin started Game 2.

It’s just the fourth time the Nets have gone with that lineup all season: April 18 at Miami (a 109-107 loss when Durant left after four minutes with a left thigh contusion), May 8 at Denver (a 125-119 win) and three days later in Chicago (a 115-107 victory).

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