Learning the Game, Green’s Growing Up

WALTHAM - A year ago, Gerald Green wouldn't be talking about things like setting up his opponent, coming off screens, or playing defense.

Then again, a year ago Green was in the first of two stints in the D-League, fresh out of high school, learning the basics of the pro game and just learning how to be an adult living on his own. Forget about fighting through a screen; there were times when Green struggled with remembering what to bring on a road trip.

Gerald Green

Gerald Green dropped a career-high 24 points on the Pistons Saturday night.

After spending the first two months of his rookie year on the inactive list, Green was assigned to the now-defunct Fayetteville Patriots of the NBA's D-League on January 6, 2006 in part to make room for Tony Allen, who was making his return from a knee injury. But mostly, Green needed playing time, and with the limited practice schedules of the NBA, he wasn't going to get much of it in Boston.

"Back then, I really didn't know anything, I was just playing," said Green, who played in 32 of the final 36 games of his rookie year with the Celtics after being recalled from the D-League. "Now, I'm going off instinct. When something happens, I know the counter. Last year, it had to happen how I wanted it to happen. One year in the league, it's a lot."

Somewhat ironically, a year later, another Allen knee injury finds Gerald Green getting major minutes, and Green has responded with some impressive performances in his last four games. After scoring 27 points over two nights at the Garden last week, Green added 48 more over two road games in Detroit and Atlanta.

That he's scoring in volume is no surprise. Green's got a silky smooth jumper, and when he elevates to take the shot, he raises up above his opponents so high that it's nearly impossible to defend, let alone bother. Good luck getting a hand in his face when he's coming off a screen; it's a play you can see Green practicing in warm-ups before the game, as he'll rub imaginary defenders off Assistant Coach Dave Wohl's screen before catching and shooting the 17-foot jumper from the elbow.

"A lot of times I set my man up so good that I've got a wide-open jumper," Green said. "Our bigs do a nice job of setting screens, and I just try to take what the defense gives me."

That said, the end of Monday's game in Atlanta was the perfect object lesson for Green. Moments after he'd pulled the Celtics to within two points on a three-pointer with 1:03 to play, Green pulled up for another shot on almost the same play with 3.9 seconds to play, but Josh Childress saw it coming and blocked the shot, and Green said afterward that he failed to execute the play correctly and didn't set up his defender properly.

That miscue aside, Green has been impressive on the offensive end, as he's averaging 18.3 points and 3.8 rebounds over his last four games. He's been especially effective behind the three-point arc this year, as he's shooting 43% from three-point land on the season.

While Green's found his minutes as a starter at the expense of injuries to Paul Pierce and Allen, he's not being asked to replace Pierce's output. But he is being looked at to score the basketball when the opportunity arises. Even though he struggles at times with turnovers, mostly due to his ballhandling, Green is at his best when he's decisive and pulls the trigger first and asks questions later.

"Gerald's just playing his role, and that is to be a scorer," said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, who added that Green is probably more effective on the post than he even realizes. "It really hasn't changed much, except now he sees the ball more."

But what's opening even more eyes on the Celtics' coaching staff is how Green has responded to defending opponents' top scorers. Green credits his coaches and Allen with motivating him in practice to use his length and become a better defensive player.

"With Tony out, I'm trying to take the role of holding down the leading scorer on the other team," Green said. "This is a fast and physical game, but as soon as I learn that, I feel like I can be a good defensive player."

Rivers, who said at times during his rookie year that Green was a defensive liability, is pleased with Green's development on 'D'. So even while his offensive numbers have jumped off the box scores over the last two weeks, Green's effort on the other end might be a more significant indicator of his improvement.

"Honestly during this trip I was more proud of Gerald for his defense. I thought he did a great job on Rip [Hamilton], about as good as you can do. And I thought he did a pretty nice job on Joe Johnson in stretches," Rivers said.

Green's size and long arms give him the natural tools to be a solid NBA defender, but physical gifts are only a part of the equation. Understanding defensive schemes and giving a consistent effort go a long way toward becoming a defensive presence in the pros.

And when it comes to a kid who's straight out of high school and still growing into his body, not to mention the fact that he rarely had to play much defense because he could simply outscore or jump over his opponents, NBA quality defense is acquired taste and a refined art that requires a commitment.

Of course, guarding second and third-string wing players is one thing. Locking down starters and NBA All-Stars is a completely different story. Green has discovered that most of the adjustment is mental more than anything.

"You just have to come into the game with a different mindset. Most of the time I was coming into the game to hold off guys who were coming off the bench," said Green, whose started eight games this season. "They were good scorers, but not like Rip or Joe Johnson, so you've got to take a different approach to the game. I watched a lot of film, and the coaches really stayed on me about how to defend them."

Green certainly understands what he has to work on to improve as a player, but if there's one thing he's got locked down, it's open court dunking. And Green says that if he's asked to compete in the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, he won't disappoint the friends, family and media who keep asking him about it.

He won't reveal what he has in store if gets an invite to Vegas, but he did offer this:

"If I get in there, it will be a night that nobody will ever forget," said Green.

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