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Beloved in Brooklyn: Blake Griffin makes big impact off hustle: ‘He’s got something to prove’

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

When Blake Griffin arrived in Brooklyn back in March after reaching a buyout with the Detroit Pistons, he was doubted. He was viewed as a player that couldn’t be counted on: No longer a top option on a team and quickly in decline. Some pundits (and Pistons fans) used the term “washed” and everyone knew he hadn’t dunked in a year.

Fast forward a couple of months later, Griffin is proving his worth on the big stage and serving as a key role player. Abandoned by the Pistons and their fans, he is beloved in Brooklyn.

“As we know, they counted him out earlier this year. He’s got something to prove. He’s playing really well and he’s going to continue that,” Bruce Brown, who’s played with Griffin in Detroit and Brooklyn, said following the Nets 125-86 victory over the Bucks in Game 2.

The last time Griffin played in the semifinals of the postseason was six years ago with the “Lob City” Clippers — alongside DeAndre Jordan. He averaged a double-double of 24 points and 13 rebounds in the seven-game series — losing to James Harden and the Houston Rockets following an MVP caliber season. It was another Clipper season that ended in disappointment. Now, he’s returned to the same stage with a different demeanor.

You can call it a change of scenery or a new opportunity to finally grab that coveted first championship ring with all that phenomenal talent surrounding him. While his team no longer needs him to produce big numbers to provide a glimpse of hope in an empty arena. the six-time all-star now has now carved out a role as a contributor ... and is crushing expectations along the way.

“When I was coming to this team, one of the things I felt I can bring is some physicality and some plays like that,” Griffin said. “When you have a team as dynamic as this team with three scorers that can score from anywhere. Joe [Harris] seems like every shot he shoots is going in, you kind of have to fill those holes somewhere like what Bruce Brown has done for the team all year long is huge.

“When I was watching that, I felt like that was another hole that could be filled,” Griffin added. “Being a part of something bigger than yourself and trying to win it takes precedence, so you do whatever it takes.”

Griffin has backed up words with action and some floor burns to go with it.

He’s gotten his hands dirty, his arms and legs scratched, sacrificing his body for the collective goal of winning games. He drew a team-high 11 charges while in a Nets uniform and ended the regular season with 22 charges — tying Montrez Harrell and Kemba Walker for the league lead. While those numbers do pop out, his postseason hustle has been on a different level.

In addition to skying through the air looking for highlight-reel dunks with that unique athleticism, he’s been showing shades of Dennis Rodman by diving on the hardwood for loose balls and giving Brooklyn an infectious spark, picking up the floor burns along the way.

“His energy was outstanding. It’s beautiful to see him work and persevere and get an opportunity,” said Steve Nash after Griffin’s performance in the 115-107 victory over Milwaukee in Game 1. “He obviously was great tonight and his energy and fight was outstanding.”

The 32-year-old finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and four 3-pointers and looked to all the world like the Griffin of old and the Griffin of new.

His Game 2 numbers weren’t as gaudy — seven points, eight rebounds, and one three, but his psychic contributions were on full display. First, there was a two-handed throwback putback slam...

Then, there was this baseline poster slam over Giannis Antetokounmpo that caused a fan explosion at Barclays Center from the 15,776 in attendance.

Griffin, who didn’t dunk for 464 days in Detroit, was now a regular above the rim in Brooklyn.

More than the highlight reel clips, Griffin has also set the tone defensively against Antetokounmpo early. By the final buzzer, the reigning MVP had only 18 points and 11 rebounds, finishing -22 in the Game 2 loss for the Bucks.

Then, there was the stepover of Thanasis Antetokounmpo which sure looked like an insult to both brothers. Two years ago, Griffin stepped over Giannis, causing a similar confrontation.

To make things sweeter, Griffin has mixed in sharp three-point shooting, making 5-of-11 in the past two games — mostly due to the Bucks playing drop defense and declining to switch. He’s also has capitalized on being a threat on the boards, snagging 20 rebounds thus far against Milwaukee in the series.

It has been quite the ride for Griffin over the course of the last few years. From battling a series of injuries that required multiple surgeries to transforming his game. As the saying goes, time heals.

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