Green's 'Earned' Starting Role Next to Pierce
WALTHAM, Mass. – The door opened for Jeff Green to start alongside Paul Pierce in Boston’s starting lineup when Kevin Garnett went down with inflammation in his left ankle. Green walked right through that door, and it doesn’t sound like he’s coming back out.
Doc Rivers publicly indicated Wednesday night that it was “very possible” that Green and Pierce would continue to start alongside each other even when Garnett returns to the lineup. The coach went even further with that idea prior to Thursday afternoon’s practice.
Rivers was asked if he plans on leaving Green in the starting lineup even when Garnett returns. He answered by saying, “Yeah, I think Jeff has earned that.”
There’s no debating that statement. Green has started 11 games for the Celtics this season and averaged 22.5 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game and 3.4 assists per game in those contests. Those 11 games have also featured shooting splits of 56.3 percent from the field and 54.1 percent from 3-point range by Green.
Green’s emergence has given the Celtics quite a combo on the perimeter. Avery Bradley is technically the point guard, while Green and Pierce each play a hybrid shooting guard-small forward position. Green and Pierce are essentially interchangeable on all levels, from the offensive sets to defensive schemes.
“I don’t know who’s at the 2, but I’m comfortable with that lineup,” Rivers said. “I don’t think we have a 2. We’re playing a 2, two 3s and two 4s, if you wanted to really be honest.”
Such a lineup puts Boston’s opponents in quite a quandary every night. Who guards who? Does the opposition’s shooting guard have the slightest chance to slow down either Green or Pierce, whichever one he might be covering? Rivers believes the answer to that question is “no” more often than not, and that’s why he’s intrigued with the idea of riding this lineup for the foreseeable future.
“I think it helps one guy a night, as far as at least in the post up game and the physicality,” Rivers said of the lineup. “Because most teams don’t have two big guards like that, so one guy’s going to have a matchup advantage.”
Pierce, who also told the media that Green has “earned” a starting spot, agrees with his coach’s assessment.
“It’s such a matchup nightmare when you’ve got two guys of our size playing on the perimeter, because you figure one of the smaller guys has to take us,” Pierce said. “We’re both post up threats, so it causes a matchup problem. That’s what we look for night-in and night-out – take advantage of matchups.”
That last word Pierce used, ‘matchups,’ is the key to the NBA Playoffs. Making a run to the Finals is all about winning matchups. That’s why the Celtics have teetered on the brink of three championships in the past five seasons.
This combination of Green and Pierce is causing matchup problems for other teams, and those problems could be difference-makers in the playoffs. As we saw in the final minutes of Wednesday night’s win over the Pistons, Boston can now run a deadly pick-and-roll between two athletic wings who can get to the basket or thrive on the perimeter.
“Well when you put a guy who can drive the ball as well as shoot from the perimeter, you have to make a decision on if you’re going to switch, if you’re going to trap the ball, or if you’re going to sag off of the ball because he’s such a threat all over the court,” Pierce said as he described the NBA pick-and-roll. “So many teams, they do that; they put their best players in the pick-and-roll because of the difficult decisions that [opponents have] to make in pick-and-rolls.
“With [Green] becoming a better pick-and-roll player, and a tough matchup, it’s tough. And that’s the situation you want to get the other team in, especially come playoff time to where they’ve got to make a decision as to who they want to put their better defenders on.”
With all of this being said, we’d be remiss not to mention the fact that this lineup can put the Celtics in a bind as well. Either Green or Pierce will be forced to defend the opposing team’s shooting guard on a nightly basis. Rivers, however, believes that Green has grown enough this season to handle that predicament more often than not.
“When your confidence is high you can do everything,” Rivers said. “You think you can jump off of a building. That, and knowledge. I just think being around longer in our system has helped us as well.”
Green is now ready and has earned a spot alongside Pierce in Boston’s new starting lineup. Defending that combo will be a scary proposition for the Celtics’ playoff opponents.