Nets’ Blake Griffin faces shrinking role in Steve Nash reshuffle

Blake Griffin went straight from start to sitting.

Now the question is: was this a one-off situation or a long-term status?

Griffin, who claimed the Nets center spot at the end of last season and started the first 18 games of this campaign, was not only pulled from the roster on Wednesday in Boston, but also never left the bench.

LaMarcus Aldridge got the nod down the center, and the way the Nets looked with the 36-year veteran on the floor, it will be difficult for Griffin to take him off the job with the Suns who come to town on Saturday.

“Someone who can space, reverse their shot and just a big body that can bounce back and protect the rim,” said Kevin Durant, of what the Nets need from their cross. “We’re going to need all of our jumbo jets all year round, no matter what. I know Blake wasn’t there, but we need him to stay ready to be the team we want to be.

Each reigning team has its bench tested on its way to a championship. The question is: what kind of role will Griffin have?

Griffin, who leads the NBA in the charges drawn, still brings a physical tenacity and a willingness to do the dirty work. But after starting every game of last season’s playoffs in victory Monday in Cleveland, Griffin only registered 9:07 am against the Cavaliers and then retired against the Celtics.

He will enter the game against Phoenix averaging 5.5 points, his career low, on a 0.318 shot, and shooting just 0.161 over a 3-point range.

“We just have to look at different things,” said coach Steve Nash. “I think it accelerated our pace. [Aldridge is] not the fastest guy on the pitch, but we played with pace. We played with ideas. We have not stagnated. We moved the ball. I thought we defended well.

Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge
AP, Getty

“Overall the spirit was really good. That’s what we asked of this group, is to have a good spirit, to get up and push for more, to improve.

Nash firmly expressed his confidence that Griffin would come out of his funk, but the fact that the other teams didn’t seem to share that point of view helped change. Too often, Griffin’s defender has sagged to pack the paint against commissions from Durant and James Harden.

Against the Celtics, Aldridge had 17 points and nine rebounds. Specifically, even after missing its first four shots, Boston still stuck to the scouting ratio established over a decade and a half of midrange jumpers.

“He brings a different dynamic to their team,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.

Aldridge shoots at 0.595% of the midrange, by far the best in the league of any player who has averaged at least two midrange attempts per game (he’s at 4.4). This jumper can help unlock a Nets offense that sometimes failed playing without Kyrie Irving and now Joe Harris.

“I told him in the game, one thing about him, I never have to worry about him getting or missing shots,” Harden said. “He has over 20,000 points. So I don’t know the last time he started – he probably has to get used to starting over – but it will get there. And of course he did. But I don’t worry about it.

“He’s going to launch, and once he does, it brings a different element to our game on the offensive end. Our attack will come and we will continue to grow and improve. … Now, with LaMarcus in our starting XI, he sometimes gives us a different role with his pick-and-pop jump shot. Thus, adults are no longer able to sit in the painting and pile up the paint. “

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