Jeff Green will be needed by the depleted Nets now more than ever.
Brooklyn’s gritty, grinding glue guy made his series debut midway through the first quarter in the Nets’ 107-96 loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee, evening the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2. His first play of note was taking a charge on Giannis Antetokounmpo as he skied for a made dunk.
In the second quarter, Green took another charge on Antetokounmpo as the Bucks forward barreled in for a layup. Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer challenged, however, and won it. It became a there-point play for “The Greek Freak’’ and helped swing the momentum.
Things fell apart from there. Kyrie Irving had just gone down with an ankle injury, out for the rest of Game 4, and the Nets went down with him.
Green, who had missed the last six playoff games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, is needed in a big way with James Harden (right hamstring) and Irving ailing. Green’s foot needs to be healthy, and he needs to be that X-factor. Nets coach Steve Nash admitted afterward he played Green more than he anticipated Sunday under the circumstances: 26:33.
“He played a lot more minutes than we expected,” Nash said. “I think [with] Kyrie going down, we used his versatility to try different things. I’m proud of him for playing. He wasn’t supposed to play today — a couple days ago. For him to ratchet it up and get out there was great.
“Unfortunately, it was a tough night, and [with] Kyrie going down so early, he had to play more. But maybe this will, if it’s not too provocative of the injury, this will help him in subsequent games.’’
Sunday wasn’t quite Green’s X-factor moment.
Green shot 2-for-4 and 1-for-2 from 3-point range. He finished with eight points and five rebounds. It’s a start, but he admitted to being “tired.’’
“But I knew that was going to happen,’’ Green said. “It’s tough to just bounce back in and be what I was before the injury.
“The rhythm has to come. I wasn’t ‘tired, tired’ but I got a little fatigued. It’s tough to replicate game-like situations, especially in playoff intensity. It will come back. I [have] got to get my rest and try to do whatever I can to help my team in Game 5.’’
That game, on Tuesday, might be played without Irving. The Nets gave no timetable on his status.
“You hate to see anyone go down,’’ Green said. “Injuries are tough. The timing is a little rough. It’s just next man up. We have to find a way to get momentum somewhere. Get on the floor, communicate, play together. Whatever five [players are] in, that’s what we needed to do but didn’t get the job done.’’
Nash kept starting center Blake Griffin on the pine for the final quarter-and-a-half, presumably to get Green some minutes and conditioning as the Nets were out of contention the entire fourth quarter. Nash said he wanted to speed the pace up.
“No, Blake was good, he’s fine,’’ Nash said. “He’s played a lot of minutes. We’ve asked a lot of him and coupling that with the fact that we wanted to play a little faster. We were down in the game to try and speed it up a little bit, go small a little more.’’