Even Blake Griffin sometimes treats Blake Griffin like an afterthought on the Nets.
That certainly wasn’t the case Saturday, however.
Griffin collected 18 points and 14 rebounds on the way to only his second double-double in a Nets uniform and his first in the playoffs since 2016 — and that doesn’t even account for the two hustle plays he made that sparked a “Bla-ke Griff-in!” chant in section 114 of the Barclays Center during Game 1 of the playoff series against the Bucks.
By the end of the 115-107 victory, the fan appreciation for Griffin turned to a standing ovation.
“Blake was great,” coach Steve Nash said. “He put up numbers. But just his energy was outstanding. That willingness to fight and claw and do the dirty work has been unbelievable from Blake since he got here.”
With just less than seven minutes to go in the second quarter, Griffin stole a defensive rebound from Bobby Portis and hugged the ball tightly as rolled to the floor. Portis jumped on Griffin and the mugging went uncalled, leading to a jump ball.
Four minutes later, Griffin wrestled Pat Connaughton for a loose ball under the offensive basket, resulting in another jump ball. The floor burns on Griffin’s surgically repaired knees were proof of a player trying to raise his game with James Harden sidelined.
Griffin set a tone that the Nets were not going to be bullied all the way until the final 86 seconds, when he fouled out and picked up a double-technical with the Bucks’ Jeff Teague.
“When he plays like that, it just ignites the whole crowd and ignites our whole team,” Kevin Durant said. “To play 35 minutes like that is a very promising start to the series.”
In all, it was Griffin’s finest performance with the Nets. His 14 rebounds marked a new high over 32 games (26 regular-season and six postseason). His 18 points was topped only once. He had six and 10, respectively, in the first half to turn back the clock past two rough years with the Pistons before his contract was bought out in March.
“For two years, I didn’t hear much positivity,” Griffin said. “Probably rightfully so. But it’s pretty crazy how quickly it happens, so I’m just thankful for this opportunity.”
Everyone understands the Nets have a Big 3 of Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving that does not include the 32-year-old center despite the six All-Star selections on his résumé. But Griffin took it a step further Friday, when he elevated sharpshooter Joe Harris as one of the Nets’ main four offensive weapons, inconspicuously and unselfishly labeling himself as the fifth starter.
“At this point, being part of something bigger than yourself and trying to win takes precedence,” Griffin said.
Griffin pulled up for a 3 and finished a one-hand slam early in the third quarter to stretch the lead. When Harris sealed the victory with back-to-back 3-pointers to open up a 115-96 lead with 3:40 minutes to go, it was Griffin who made the first of the extra passes on both possessions to create the easy look on the perimeter.
“When I was coming to this team, one of the things I felt I could bring was some physicality,” Griffin said. “When you have a team as dynamic as this team, you just have to fill those holes.”