BOSTON – Steve Nash finally made the lineup change Wednesday that Nets fans had been pining for, benching center Blake Griffin in favor of LaMarcus Aldridge.
Nash had actually tipped his hand on Monday night, when he let Aldridge start the third quarter in Cleveland and lead a come-from-behind win. Two days later, Nash made the move complete, replacing Griffin in the starting lineup.
It was the first start of the season for Aldridge, who had admitted he’d struggled adjusting to a bench role. Meanwhile, Griffin had been in the lineup every single game this season – the first several at power forward, alongside Nic Claxton.
Griffin has been struggling mightily, coming into Boston averaging 5.5 points on .318 shooting, just .161 from deep. Nash has steadfastly expressed confidence that Griffin would break his funk – but in the end, the fact that other teams didn’t seem to share that view contributed to the switch.
The Nets have been playing without Kyrie Irving and shooter Joe Harris. And with Griffin having gotten great looks and consistently missing them, opponents started sagging off him and clogging the lane against Kevin Durant and James Harden. That led to Nash pulling him in the second half against the Cavs.
“That’s part of it for sure,” said Nash. “Our spacing has struggled at times and also has hurt our pace a little bit. So we try to find different combinatitons that work and also that style of play. Keep pushing towards an identity. We’re not a team that can just iso and just play slow because we don’t have a ton of shooting out there.
“So if we’re going to play against loaded defenses, it’s going to be hard no matter if your name is Kevin Durant or James Harden. It’s just tough to go one-on-two, one-on-three with that picture. We’ve got to play quick, move the defense, move the help and attack. That’s something we’re still trying to work towards and get there. And that’s an identity and a purpose that’s going to take us a long time to get to. But we’re showing signs and we’re improving and we’re enjoying it.”
Aldridge arrived in Boston averaging 13.4 points and 5.8 rebounds – and he’s been getting stronger as the season, pouring in 20 points on .571 shooting and 7.7 boards in his last three coming into Wednesday night. And his automatic midrange jumper helps space the floor, needed even more now playing without Harris and Irving.
“He brings a different dynamic to their team. He’s a veteran that they trust. I know Kevin and James, they were recruiting him to get him there and bring him back and so he’s been doing a great job,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who was a Nets assistant last season. “The impact is night and day when he scores and plays that well, and he did it against Cleveland. And I see his role increasing going forward.”
Brooklyn was 10-1 when Aldridge cracks double-figures, but just 2-4 when he plays and is held to single digits. While moving him into the starting lineup is sure to see to deplete the bench’s scoring, it could help them break their cycle of slow starts and make life easier on Durant and Harden.
“Other coaches have been using their big men to help so much off the penetrators, so when we get space in that corner, ‘L’ was able to knock that shot down,” said Durant. “They feel less comfortable leaving him wide open to come help. He’s been taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Aldridge came into Boston leading the league in shooting .614 (43-of-70) from midrange. He was fifth last season, and got to 20,000 points feasting in the midrange. That should mesh well with Durant and Harden.
“That’s where I try to help out, try to knock down shots,” Aldridge said. “Hopefully that opens up the floor for (Kevin) and James to try to get to the rim.”