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Blake Griffin, Brooklyn Nets Embrace Blue Collar Identity

Griffin and Harris are all in on the dirty work and the club is growing

The committee has been tracking this Kevin Durant fellow and sees some promise. Nice size, fills up a box score, crazy efficient.

But, you know, how about a little dirty work?

“We noticed him, we appreciate Kevin’s commitment to taking a charge,” said Blake Griffin after Sunday’s 116-103 win in Toronto. “I don’t know if he knows the application process takes a while. So while we do like him as a prospect, it’s going to be a bit of a go. He has got to jump through a few hoops before we just give it to him. There is no easy way to get into the Blue Collar Boys club.”

Ten games into the season, with a 7-3 record and a five-game win streak, ranked sixth in the NBA in defensive rating — allowing 103.4 points per 100 possessions — Griffin and the Nets are having a little fun with getting serious about grinding things out.

Enter this Blue Collar Boys club, complete with handshakes and a routine pantomiming the donning of a hard hat and pulling on work boots. And also, apparently, a bit of a proving ground before being cleared for admission.

“That started with me and Joe (Harris) last season,” said Griffin after Friday night’s win in Detroit. “I don't even know why. We both took a charge in a game and we were just like — I can't remember it, we're like some blue collar boys. So right before every game we’ll be like, hey it's a steel toe, hard hat, lunch pail kind of game and we'd do this stupid thing and Patty (Mills) came and took some charges and he submitted his membership. Joe and I have a meeting tomorrow to go over it. But we're good.”

Mills can rest easy now, with Griffin confirming after Sunday’s win over the Raptors that the newly arrived veteran guard had made the cut.

“I was worried for a second there that they had the wrong email address or something, because I hadn’t gotten anything in my inbox, but it’s good, it’s good to know I’ve been accepted,” said Patty Mills. “I had put in my request but hadn’t heard back. So good to know.”

Everybody’s having fun with it except maybe opponents. If you want to measure grit and grind in defensive numbers, aside from Brooklyn’s high-ranking defensive rating, the Nets are second in the league in opponent effective field goal percentage allowed (48.2) and fourth in opponent field goal percentage allowed (42.2). They’re also fifth in charges drawn per game (0.90).

“In a serious way, it’s probably something we can hang our hat on, and you can see the way that we play that way,” said Mills. “When you see BG flying around the floor and diving on loose balls and putting his body on the line for the betterment of the team, the rest of the guys feed off that energy and it can be infectious that way. So, in a serious way, I think that — and then Kevin goes and takes a charge as well, and other guys start doing that. So I think we’re starting to find a little bit of identity on that end of the floor. So it’s a good start with our first few games, but we’ve just got to keep building on it and hopefully we can believe in it more and becomes something we can hang our hat on.”

In a game in which Durant went for 31 points and James Harden flirted with another triple-double, it may have been Griffin making the signature play on Sunday. Midway through the third quarter, Griffin sprinted half the length of the court, beating Toronto’s 10-years-younger Precious Achiuwa to a loose ball as he threw his 250 pounds to the deck and slid along the hardwood after gaining possession.

This is what the Nets have seen from the five-team All-NBA honoree, who eagerly embraced a rugged glue-guy role after joining Brooklyn in the middle of last season.

“Ever since Blake joined us, he went from an All-Star player for the most part in his career to a role player with us and he accepted it and I think attacked that role and so it’s been amazing to see him,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We saw it against Milwaukee in the playoffs, but his ability to throw his body around, take charges, rebound, set good screens, do all the little things, it’s been outstanding. We’re recognizing that our group has to be that way this year. We’re not just going to outscore people. I think the guys’ willingness to fight and compete and do it together has been very key to our season thus far.”

Griffin moved into the starting center role late in the season last year and has remained in the spot at the start of the 2021-22 season. After struggling with his scoring over Brooklyn’s first eight games, he’s posted back-to-back double-figure scoring games while shooting 10-for-17. Against the Raptors, he had his first double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes, making 4-of-6 3-pointers.

“Teams are going to leave him wide open in the corner like that and he's shooting it with confidence,” said Durant. “Not hesitating, and as far as the dirty work, we expect that out of Blake and we got a lot of bigs that come in and contribute in different ways and Blake is unique in how he can stretch the floor, run the offense and score from the post. We need him to stay confident, especially shooting the 3-pointer, but everything else he's been on point with.”

For his part, Durant seems to be operating under the impression that he’s been invited into the club by Griffin after drawing a charge in Sunday’s win over Toronto.

“He told me to put my hard hat on in the locker room after the game so I did one of these and I feel like I'm part of the crew with him and Patty,” said Durant as he mimicked the group’s routine of pulling on a hard hat. “I told him I took a charge and I almost got a concussion because I ran into him you know so I guess I was in his way. But those are plays, Blake inspires us with those type of plays and it's contagious for sure.”

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