[The Experimental McGee & Green - photo: K. Weidie]
Around 6:10pm, just 50 minutes before the Boston Celtics were to take on the Washington Wizards, a weary Doc Rivers stepped out of his office to meet with the media. He exchanged a few pleasantries with the familiar Boston media, and then he got right down to business and told everyone that Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were going sit the game out. The starters were going to be Delonte West, Von Wafer, Jermaine O’Neal, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Jeff Green.
This was a curious move considering the Celtics went into Monday night just one game behind the Miami Heat for the second seed in the NBA playoffs. The Heat had to visit Atlanta to play the Hawks, and the Celtics had a very winnable game (with their starters at least) against Wizards, who they had just beaten on Friday night. Rivers seemed to be prematurely conceding that second seed to the Heat by removing his starters from the equation. He explained his actions before the game.
“We’re gonna sit our guys today and try to get some rest and get ready for the playoffs. The way were playing, we do need it, so we’re going to take it, plus we don’t have a lot of time. We got Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday [to rest our starters] and then Wednesday could be a great practice, so I’ d rather do that…The decision ws made in how we played last night [Sunday night's 100-77 loss to Miami].”
Rivers’ decision meant that West and O’Neal would get the minutes they needed to find their games, as both have missed significant time due to injury. It would allow Wafer and Davis to get starter’s minutes and refine their respective games before the playoffs, and most importantly, it would allow Jeff Green to find some degree of comfort.
In February, Green was traded to the Celtics, along with Nenad Kristc and a first-round draft pick, from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. An alumni of Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland and Georgetown in Washington D.C., Green has since struggled to get comfortable with Boston’s offense. He has gone from being a starter averaging 37 minutes 15 points and 5.6 points a game, to coming off the bench and averaging just 23 minutes, 9.6 points, and 2.5 rebounds. When you throw in the fact that Perkins was a well-liked member of the Celtics, and Green was a key part of the Thunder’s nucleus along with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, it’s not at all difficult to see why the transition has not been easy.
The difficult situation was not lost on his head coach:
In the first quarter against the Wizards, Green’s discomfort was on full display. He did grab five rebounds in the first quarter, but his six points came on 3-10 shooting, and four of those misses came at point-blank range (which prompted this tweet from Bullets Forever editor Mike Prada). There were also two occasions in the first quarter (one at the 1:38 mark and again with seven seconds left) when Green could not decide whether to pass or shoot, which led to a 24-second violation. One might be tempted to blame that on Rondo’s absence, but it was clear that Green simply has not had enough reps to react. Instead, he over-thinks.
To Green’s credit, he shot 50-percent (5-10) the remainder of the game, and he grabbed 10 more rebounds to finish with 20 points, 15 boards and just one turnover. He still struggled at times in the post, especially when Kevin Seraphin threw his weight around (which prompted this tweet from Truth About It’s Kyle Weidie), but he did not look nearly as lost as he did in the first 12 minutes of play.
Green was most comfortable when he caught the ball at the foul line extended. At the 6:16 mark of the third quarter, he slowly drifted to that spot, turned and shot in one fluid motion. He drained the bucket. He repeated that same sequence in the fourth quarter to pull the Celtics within 71-70, and again in overtime to give his team the lead at 88-86. He also shook the first quarter doldrums enough to start making close range layups.
The Wizards ended up defeating the Celtics in overtime, but it was in spite of Green’s play, not because of it. After the game, Rivers made it his business to point out the good performance of his makeshift starting lineup, Green included:
“[Jermaine] defended the basket as well as you can defend, I don’t know how many blocks he and Baby had, it was terrific. Jeff Green, 15 rebounds, so there was a lot of good things that came out of this game.”
I asked Green to discuss if he felt more comfortable last night against the Wizards, in comparison to his previous games with this new team:
“Yeah, definitely. Every game I’m getting better and better with my sets and execution, and it’s becoming fun. We just have to continue to play Celtics ball, which is moving the ball, sharing the ball and communicating.”
Celtics fans might remember and miss Kendrick Perkins come playoffs. It will partially be Jeff Green’s job to make them forget.