Nets Notes: Bruce Brown Rolls On

Bruce Brown went over Giannis Antetokounmpo for a rebound and ducked under to leave the airspace open for a hellacious Blake Griffin dunk. He dropped in floaters from 15 feet away at the foul line and from three feet away at the rim with an arc to touch the sky and avoid the outstretched arms of Milwaukee’s 7-foot defenders.

He had all the angles covered and — along with Griffin — his tenacity put a face on Brooklyn’s shutdown defensive effort in Monday’s 125-86 Game 2 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was the first playoff start for Brown with the Nets, stepping in for James Harden, but the latest step forward since he joined Brooklyn before the season and built a unique role after starting the year out of the rotation in the season’s earliest games.

That tenacity was the first thing that came to mind for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when the Nets acquired Brown from Detroit in a draft week trade.

“Me and Ky talked about it once we got Bruce that playing against him the last two years, I mean nobody really knew him in Detroit, but when you play against him and you got him in the scouting report he kind of disrupted our flow when I was in Golden State a bit one game,” said Durant. “I was like who is this kid? He was a second round pick, I didn't hear of him, I didn't watch him in college. We knew he played with extreme passion and intensity and whenever he had got a chance — early on he wasn't playing for us — but whenever he got a chance, we knew he was going to come in and make an impact.”

Brown said from the start of the season he was focused on making his mark exactly the way Durant saw him, as a relentless defender. Somewhere along the way, in a season in which adjusting to circumstance became routine for the Nets, he became something different.

It started with the Nets sorting things out in the wake of the trade for James Harden. In using Brown as a screener for Harden rather than a traditional big man, defenders flooded to Harden and left the middle of the floor wide open for Brown, who pragmatically acknowledges that teams tended to stash their weakest defender on him and if not, a center, the way the Bucks did with Brook Lopez, creating opportunity.

“The short roll has been there,” said Durant. “A lot of teams in the pick-and-roll sell out to double team us and we drop it off to Bruce and he tries to make the correct play. So he had great touch around the basket, he makes the right play and he understands that position now so we're going to need more from him going forward.”

Out of that, Brown created a foundational role, finishing third among all Nets players in games played and fourth in minutes. He’s not Durant or Irving or Harden, able to create his own offensive game. He can do all the same things night in and night out, but sometimes the game has to come to him a little bit, and when it does you get a boxscore like the one he posted on Monday — 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, six rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes.

He had a piece of the game’s signature highlight as well, naturally coming out of that short roll. As Brown took a pass from Durant and got deep into the paint, Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo and Pat Connaughton came crashing down and Brown whipped a pass to Griffin coming across the baseline for a dunk.

"It's a rare skill for a guard to screen and roll like that,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “He's quick. He's smart. He screens and he also gets in and out quickly so he makes it very difficult to defend because of his pace and then when he does get the ball he's really skilled at rolling and making a play or drawing the defense and passing to his teammates. It's really unique to have a guard be able to pick that up and do it so well, almost seamlessly. He did it from day one when we asked him to do that, almost naturally. It's valuable and it's impressive. He's just been a really great piece for us."