Green’s Confidence Running High
BOSTON – If you think the Jeff Green of the 2012 preseason is different than the Jeff Green the Celtics acquired at the trade deadline in 2011, you’re right.
Jeff Green is different now. He has a large scar on his chest and a chip on his shoulder to match.
Green was the story of the Celtics training camp and preseason, and he played two very strong games to close out the exhibition slate over the weekend. Green dropped 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting on Saturday night in Albany, N.Y., then posted a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) in Sunday night’s final tune-up tilt at TD Garden.
“Jeff (Green) stood out, probably more than everybody,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of his team’s preseason. “I thought he established himself with everybody, which I thought was very important for him. We can tell them how good he is, (but) he had to show them. And I thought he did that.”
Green had to show his teammates because he really never made his mark when he first arrived in Boston. But he’s playing with more aggression than he did in 2011, and he seems to be playing with a greater purpose, too. Following his January 2012 surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, an operation that shelved him for an entire season, he’s got a clean bill of health and a clean slate on the court with the Celtics.
“It’s been fun. (I’m) just re-learning the game. The year that I sat out, you watch it from the outside, you notice things that people talk about,” Green said of training camp and the preseason. “It’s great to be back on the floor playing again, and you have a better understanding of the game.”
He’s also having fun again, and it shows. As Green cut the tape off his ankles in the Celtics locker room, he had a few requests for Jared Sullinger, whom he simply addressed as “rook.” The Celtics have Monday off from practice, but Green told the rookie that he needed “three Tootsie Rolls” and “three inches” of a $5 Foot Long from Subway delivered to his house at 12:29 p.m.
Sullinger agreed. Green appeared to be only half-joking.
It wasn’t long ago that Green was the new kid on the block, but he finally appears to have settled in with the Celtics' locker room. And as his sore feet settled into a large yellow bucket of ice, Green chatted with reporters about his impressive preseason, carefully downplaying his status as the standout.
Surrounded by the media, Green said “Doc’s just being nice,” when told of his coach’s postgame comments that he’d had the best preseason of the entire team. Green instead insisted that he still had to learn the defensive rotations, made it clear there’s more work to be done, and talked about the team being unselfish.
“We have a lot of guys who can put a lot of points on the board and we’re very unselfish out there,” Green said. “That shows that we have trust in our teammates and we can make plays.”
Before the game, Rivers stood in the hallway outside the locker room and noted that Green only showed flashes of the play that the Celtics are seeing from him now after he was acquired in a shocking deadline-day deal in 2011. Green never really got a chance to find his role in the rotation, and Rivers has often accepted the blame for not better integrating him into the team at the time. Green’s game is in a much different place today.
“I just think he’s more aggressive, obviously,” Rivers said. “He’s comfortable in his game. He understands how to score, how he can score through our offense.”
Understanding his role, however, hasn’t always been that easy. Thanks to his size and versatility, Green’s spent a good amount of time in his NBA career bouncing between the power forward and small forward spots. Sunday night, he played at the two-guard alongside Paul Pierce on the wing.
“It creates mismatches,” Green said. “Plain and simple. You check me, I can post, Paul can post. It puts pressure on the opposing team to make changes.”
Green’s coaches also seem to make changes with his position regularly.
“I still don’t know my position,” Green said, laughing. “But that’s the great thing about my game. You can put me out on the floor, and with my (basketball) IQ, coming from Georgetown, a school that takes pride in establishing great players, not just position players, but just great players, Doc can put me out there and trust me that I know the plays and the defensive schemes, as far as playing the two, three or four. It’s great to know he has the trust in me to do that.”
Green didn’t play a minute of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, but he probably gleaned more about being a Celtic from the time he spent around the team during the playoffs last year than he did after the initial trade to Boston in early 2011.
“It was great to be with them during that playoff run,” Green said of last year. “I wished I could help, but it was fun just to be around them. It helped me mentally. It’s great to be back in the flow of things, but even last year, it felt like I was part of it because I was around so much. I was with the team. It was great for me mentally, getting through my procedure.”
Recovered and re-energized, Green has showcased a diverse skill set on the offensive end throughout October, slashing to the basket for a finger-roll one minute, then launching a 3-pointer on the next trip down the floor.
Oh yeah, and if you sleep on him, he’ll dunk on you. In traffic. With authority.
“People think I’m still in my heart surgery, man,” Green said. “I’m way past that. I’m going to the rim and I’m trying to dunk it.”
Green’s past just being happy to be back, too. His confidence is in top form. He said he really doesn’t care what position he plays, and he’s ready to guard anyone in the NBA.
“I don’t care if it’s Kobe (Bryant), Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Carmelo (Anthony), I like the competition. I love it. That’s all I want to do. I want to guard the best players. I consider myself a top player in this league. And to be a top player, you’ve got to defend the top players.”
Next Tuesday night, the Celtics open thier season against the defending champion Miami Heat, a team that boasts James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and some guy named Ray Allen. Green could easily end up guarding any – or all – of those four players.
That’s when the games really matter, and the comeback really begins.