The Nets next game, barring any change, will be Christmas Day. As we’ve noted elsewhere, things are up in the air even though the Nets are not. They won’t be flying to Portland Wednesday but will instead head to L.A. for games with the Lakers and Clippers.
Whenever they play, they will be looking to players who just last week were bench warming or in street clothes. The two most prominent of that batch are David Duke Jr. and Blake Griffin who are at opposite ends of their NBA careers but have been crucial to winning games despite everything.
As Brian Lewis and Mark W. Sanchez of the Post report Wednesday, the two were in the right place at the right time, even if unexpectedly, in the three games when the team was down to a minimum number of players.
In Duke’s case, Lewis notes, he was literally as well as figuratively in the right place at the right time, particularly in the fourth quarter vs. the Magic.
Five times Nets players missed, only for Duke to crash the bucket, jump and put through the put-back. The rookie brings energy, athleticism and feisty defense, which rarely shows up in box scores like they did in the best outing of his young career.
By game’s end, he had 18 points — 16 scored in the furious fourth quarter — to go along with 14 rebounds — nine in the fourth. It was the first time a Nets rookie had secured a double-double twice in their first five NBA games, since Derrick Coleman 30 years ago. But Coleman had been taken No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft. Duke went undrafted.
It may have been that the Nets didn’t give up on Duke who had a tough second half of his final season at Providence. As draft guru Chad Ford has reported, some teams saw Duke as a possible first rounder midway through his junior season. But a dropoff pushed him down.
No matter. The Nets are happy to have the 6’6” wing with defensive chops and q 40” max vertical. Not to mention a motor that surprised at least one Nets vet.
“Unreal competitor at such an early stage in his career,” Patty Mills said of Duke. “I guess finding his little niche of how he can fit in this team and what he can do. His ability on a wide range of things is very impressive. But I think his engine, at the end of the day, just keeps going.”
He still hasn’t found his range. After shooting better than 40 percent from three his last two years at Providence — 42 percent as a sophomore, 39 percent as a junior — he’s 2-of-14 so far this season.
Meanwhile, Griffin has been resurrected after being sent to the bench following a disastrous start. As Sanchez notes, Griffin had not played for seven of the eight games from November 24 through December 10, demoted all the way out of the rotation after shooting 16 percent from three in his first 17 games.
Pressed into service after so many Nets went down, Griffin rose to the occasion. In five games since returning to the rotation, as Sanchez notes, he’s shot better (50 percent from the field) a bit better from beyond the arc (30 percent from 3). And despite all that time off, he’s tied with Miami’s Kyle Lowry at 18 in most charges drawn.
Like Duke, Griffin had his best game of the season Saturday with 17 points, 6-of-13 overall, including 3-of-10 from deep plus seven rebounds, six assists and two steals against Orlando.
“Blake’s played great,” Steve Nash said post-game. “Like I’ve said to him, we know there’s always something around the corner, so although he was out of the rotation for a little while, we knew something would happen and he’d get his opportunity again, and he’s a pro.
“Worked his butt off, stayed in shape, found a rhythm. He’s playing good basketball.”
However, Griffin noted that he played the entire second half in pain after banging knees in the second quarter. It’s not unknown if he could have played in any of the Nets three postponed games which would have added to the Nets roster woes. But post-game Saturday, Griffin sounded like the gamer he’s always been.
“I take pride in it for sure. This is my job, you know?” Griffin said. “You do all that stuff to stay ready and then can’t really be 100 percent in the second half. That’s frustrating, but it would be more frustrating if I didn’t stay ready and I wasn’t there for my teammates.”
- Blake Griffin finding path to relevancy with Nets so shorthanded - Mark W. Sanchez - New York Post
- Rookie David Duke Jr. finding his Nets niche - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Blake Griffin goes from out of Nets’ rotation to key starter amid absences: ‘This is my job’ - Garrett Stepien - SNY
- David Duke Jr.: Style & Spark - Ian Stonebrook - Boardroom