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Blake Griffin: Healthy, happy ... and productive

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets - Game Two Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Supposedly, there are no second acts in American lives. You got one chance to impress then move on. Well, no one has told that to Blake Griffin who after a Hall of Fame career has now become a crucial piece for the Nets.

As he’s made amply clear, Griffin is quite happy.

“For two years, I didn’t hear much positivity and probably rightfully so,” Griffin said. “It’s pretty crazy how crazy it happened, so I’m just thankful for this chance and the opportunity...

“Being a part of something bigger than yourself takes precedence,” Griffin said. “You do whatever it takes.”

Griffin’s college coach, Jeff Capel, now at Pitt, told Mike Mazzeo that Griffin is legitimately having fun in Brooklyn.

“Every time I talk to Blake, one of the things that always comes up is how much fun he’s having, playing in meaningful games and making an impact,” Jeff Capel.

Griffin, of course, had largely been forgotten in Detroit where meaningful games were few and far between (although it should be noted that in a Pistons upset of the Lakers back on January 28, Griffin had 23 points, six assists, five 3-pointers and three assists ... but no dunks. So the revival of his game in Brooklyn shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise.)

“All I heard for two years was how bad I am,” Griffin said when there was an uproar over his and LaMarcus Aldridge’s post-buyout contracts.

Capel, who admits Griffin isn’t the athlete he once was, said that he still has his BBIQ and has done other things to extend his career like extending his range out beyond the 3-point line. In the regular season, the 6’10” Griffin shot 38.3 percent from the arc and in the Bucks series, he’s been even better, hitting 42.6 percent.

There’s also his defense. Despite limited minutes in Detroit, some time off between gigs with the Pistons and Nets and initially a bench role following the trade, Griffin led the NBA in charges with 22.

In the post-season, Mazzeo points out that Brooklyn is outscoring the opposition by 15.8 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the court — including a solid 104.5 defensive rating. As for his defense vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Bucks series, an assignment that had many pundits scratching their heads, Mazzeo notes the stats...

In Game 3, Antetokounmpo didn’t score for the final seven minutes. For the series, Antetokounmpo is shooting 52.4 percent with Griffin guarding him (22-for-42) — 4.5 percent under his regular-season percentage — according to NBA.com.

Whether he can keep it will mean a lot in how the series turns out, but .

“It’s remarkable, a great example for young players,” said Capel, who now coaches at Pitt. “It speaks volumes about him as a person and his desire to win.”

That same desire also pushed him to undergo the knife twice in a nine-month period, the second knee surgery during the pandemic. Others may have given up on him, but he didn’t give up on himself when he could have. After all, Griffin has earned more than a quarter-billion in NBA salaries alone, not counting endorsements, etc. that often made him one of the league’s highest paid players. He could have waved goodbye to the game, worked on his stand-up comedy routine and waited for the call from Springfield five years hence.

Instead, he’s giving it one more shot ... and it might not be his last.

So what is next for the 32-year-old? He gave up $13.3 million on the last two years of his Pistons contract, most of it in 2021-22. Still, he’ll make $29.8 million from the Pistons next year. So, he has the luxury of playing for who he wants at whatever price.

He’s raved about the Nets organization, about the performance team in particular. Whether it was some magic dunking elixir or new training approaches, Griffin has looked if not capable of jumping over a Kia, a world-class athlete again. His two dunks in Game 1, one a throwback putback, the other a poster over Antetokounmpo, added to his Nets total, now at 25 compared to zero in the 464 days prior to donning the black-and-white.

There appears little doubt the Nets want him back. What will it require? Leave that to Sean Marks and Griffin’s agent. Right now, as Capel said, just enjoy the show, the second act.

“For him to be an All-NBA player and be willing to adapt his game and fit a role that’s needed, it speaks highly of his character and determination,” said Capel.