BOSTON — When the Nets arrived Wednesday at TD Garden to face the Celtics, it was with the goal of avoiding the slow starts that have plagued them this season. In their previous two games against the Magic and Cavaliers, the Nets had to come back from a 19-point second-quarter deficit and a 12-point third quarter deficit to win.
The fact the Nets were down 11 at halftime in Cleveland is what prompted Nets coach Steve Nash to replace Blake Griffin with LaMarcus Aldridge at center to start the second half. Griffin, who has been in a terrible shooting slump, did not play at all in the second half, while Aldridge totaled 21 points and 11 rebounds.
After the game, Nash said the notion of moving Aldridge from the key bench role he has played into the starting lineup would be a possibility. And that possibility came true Wednesday night as Nash started Aldridge at center.
Over his previous eight games, Griffin averaged a mere 3.6 points on 26.1% shooting and went 0-for-22 from three-point range.
At the Wednesday morning shootaround, Nash had agreed opposing defenses basically aren’t guarding Griffin on the perimeter to pack the paint and throw more defenders at the likes of Kevin Durant and James Harden. "That’s part of it for sure," Nash said of the Nets’ offensive problems. "I think our spacing has struggled at times and also has hurt our pace a little bit. So we try to find different combinations that work, keep pushing towards an identity. We’re not a team that can just play slow because we don’t have a ton of shooting out there.
"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."
Recently, former seven-time All-Star Aldridge said he has struggled to adjust to coming off the bench at the age of 36 after starting all but three games since his rookie year before this season. But Nash said Aldridge had not complained to him or even discussed the subject.
"No, it’s one of those things that I think we’ve got to stay flexible much like last year when we changed lineups very often," Nash said of the prospect of a change. "That’s something that we have to be open to and just be able to do what’s best for the team on any given night."
Following their win over the Cavaliers, Durant applauded the impact both Aldridge and rookie Cam Thomas made knocking down open shots against a defense running multiple defenders at himself and Harden. So it’s quite possible Aldridge’s role could expand and Thomas might see more meaningful minutes off the bench.
Part of the reason for limiting Aldridge’s playing time is that he was coming back from a brief retirement for a heart arrhythmia, but he was pronounced fit and has shown no ill effects this season.
"He’s playing at the caliber that we know he can play at, if not better," forward DeAndre’ Bembry said. "He’s been great, especially coming off the bench for us, a key piece for us. Obviously scoring in the mid-range and the post but just bringing a big body off the bench because we kind of start off small. He’s been making big plays down the stretch, a couple of big shots in these road games. You can’t ask for more from him."
Well, maybe there is a little more the Nets can ask of Aldridge.