Nets guard Bruce Brown (1) is fouled by Dallas Mavericks...

Nets guard Bruce Brown (1) is fouled by Dallas Mavericks power forward Maxi Kleber (42) as he goes to the basket  during the first quarter at Barclays Center on Feb 27, 2021. Credit: Brad Penner

If anyone ever put together a matrix of when Nets superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have played, it would be amazing in terms of revealing the fact they only have all played together seven times during the 46 games since the Nets traded for Harden on Jan. 14.

As a result, the Nets (39-20) have been forced to dig down into their deep roster to keep winning at a level that had them tied for first in the Eastern Conference going into their game against the sixth-place Celtics (31-27) Friday night at Barclays Center. Durant (left thigh contusion) was listed as "questionable," but it was far from sure that he would return.

If the Nets have an unsung hero, it is third-year guard Bruce Brown, who generously is listed at 6-4 and 202 pounds, but has played all five positions and has come up bigger than his dimensions. Six-time All-Star Blake Griffin, who himself has become a role player with the Nets and played with Brown his first two years with the Pistons, chuckled when asked if Brown has played beyond his 6-4 size.

"Six-four, huh?" Griffin said. "I always give him a hard time about that. He’s like the ultimate Swiss Army knife. He just can fit in so many situations."

Referring to the 14 rebounds Brown had against the Raptors during a loss Wednesday night in Tampa, Griffin added, "Tonight, he knocked down some threes and had what, 14 boards? I just love the energy and the way he plays. He brings a certain aggressiveness to our team that I think is very important. I think he’s done a great job developing his game, but also fitting in and doing the little things."

Asked how he could come away with 14 rebounds against the Raptors as a guard who is undersized compared to the frontcourt players he is beating to rebounds, Brown said, "I think it’s just timing. Toronto, they leave me opportunity to crash the offensive glass. On the defensive boards, [DeAndre Jordan] and the big guys are boxing out, so I just try to come and help them."

Brown has been nothing if not opportunistic. In fact, every time he pops up and makes a good play, it comes as a surprise because you just don’t expect a guard to execute on defense the way that Brown has done.

Asked if he saw signs of Brown’s talent with the Pistons, especially as a defensive stopper, Griffin said, "He was doing stuff similar to that for us. He was locking down, he was always guarding our opponents’ best guard, he was rebounding the ball at a high level and finishing and he was continually working on his shot. You could see the writing on the wall for sure."

Since the All-Star break, the Nets often have been without Durant, Harden and Irving for a variety of injury-related and personal reasons. But Brown has stepped to the fore. He had one double-figure rebounding game in the first 49 games he played for the Nets this season. But Brown has four double-figures rebounding performances in the last six games and has averaged 9.5 in that stretch, including three straight double-digit performances.

For the season, Brown is averaging 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.9 steals and has shot a career-high 53.9% with a career-high 55.9% effective field goal percentage.

"I’m just being more aggressive," Brown said. "After the All-Star break, I was less aggressive on the offensive end, haven’t been picking my spots correctly. So I’m just trying to be more aggressive when I get the opportunity, and I just have confidence."

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