Blake Griffin went straight from starting to sitting.
Now the question is: Was that a one-off situation or a long-term status?
Griffin, who laid claim to the Nets’ center spot late last season and started the first 18 games this campaign, not only was pulled from the lineup Wednesday in Boston, but also never got off the bench.
LaMarcus Aldridge got the nod at center, and the way the Nets looked with the 36-year-old veteran on the floor, it’ll be hard for Griffin to pry the job back from him with the Suns coming to town Saturday.
“Somebody that can space, knock down his shot and just a big body that can rebound and protect the rim,” Kevin Durant said, regarding what the Nets need from their center. “We’re gonna need all our bigs the whole year, no matter what. I know Blake wasn’t in there, but we need him to stay ready to be the team we want to be.”
Every title team has its bench tested en route to a championship. The question is: What kind of role will Griffin have?
Griffin, who leads the NBA in charges drawn, still brings a physical toughness and willingness to do the dirty work. But after starting every game from last season’s playoffs through the victory Monday at Cleveland, Griffin logged just 9:07 against the Cavaliers, and then sat out against the Celtics.
He will enter the game against Phoenix averaging a career-low 5.5 points on .318 shooting, and is shooting just .161 from 3-point range.
“We just need to look at different things,” coach Steve Nash said. “I think it picked up our pace. [Aldridge is] not the fastest guy on the floor, but we played with pace. We played with ideas. We weren’t stagnant. We moved the ball. I thought we defended well.
“Overall, the spirit was really good. That’s what we’ve been asking from this group is to have a great spirit and pick each other up and push for more, get better.”
Nash has steadfastly expressed confidence that Griffin would break out of his funk, but the fact that other teams didn’t seem to share that view contributed to the switch. All too often, Griffin’s defender has sagged off to pack the paint against drives from Durant and James Harden.
Against the Celtics, Aldridge had 17 points and nine rebounds. More to the point, even after he missed his first four shots, Boston still respected the scouting report built up over a decade-and-a-half of midrange jumpers.
“He brings a bring a different dynamic to their team,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.
Aldridge is shooting .595 percent from midrange, by far the best in the league of any player who has averaged at least two midrange attempts a game (he’s at 4.4). That jumper can help unlock a Nets offense that has at times sputtered playing without Kyrie Irving and now Joe Harris.
“I told him in the game, one thing about him I don’t ever have to worry about him making or missing shots,” Harden said. “He’s got over 20,000 points. So I don’t know the last time he started — he’s probably got to get used to starting again — but it’ll get there. And obviously sure enough he did that. But I don’t worry about that.
“He’s going to get going, and once he gets going that just brings a different element to our game on the offensive end. Our offense will come and we’ll continue to grow and get better. … Now with LaMarcus in our starting lineup, he gives us a different role sometimes with his pick-and-pop jump shot. So the bigs now aren’t able to sit in the paint and crowd the paint.”