It Ain't Easy Being Green
Forward Still Looking for his Role as C's Face Heat
WALTHAM, Mass. – Jeff Green sat alone in a chair, looking out at the court, waiting for practice to begin on Friday. Suddenly, engulfed by a mob of reporters, he set his Celtics Water bottle down and prepared to take questions. While the local scribes wanted answers about how he was going to help defend LeBron James and back up Paul Pierce, it became clear that Green himself is still looking for answers about his role with the Celtics.
"You guys know more than I do, huh?" Green deadpanned when a reporter suggested that he'd been brought to Boston in part to help the Celtics defend James.
Of course, in every joke, it's said, there's an element of truth. It's not that the expectation from his coaches hasn't been set, and to hear them tell it, they're happy with his effort and progress to date. But it's clear that Green himself is frustrated with his own production and wants to bring more to the table for the Celtics as they make their playoff run. However, the adjustment from being a starter in Oklahoma City in the regular season to being an complimentary piece on the bench hasn't been easy.
"I'm never satisfied, I knew it was going to be hard. Coming to a team that's already established and trying to fit in, that's a tough thing to do," Green said. ‘(Going) from starting to coming off the bench, it's tough, but it's something you've got to do to help your team win."
Playing time alone is only part of the equation. It's a different mindset for a young player who grew used to being a featured part of the offense with the Thunder.
"It's a mentality. When you're a starter you get to ease in the game a little bit, but when you come off the bench, the game is already started and you've got to find your way and see where you can help," Green said.
Asked what he needs from Green, Doc Rivers, who's been stressing the credo of "keep it simple" of late, had one big theme for Green.
"Just be solid," Rivers said. "As the playoffs go on, each game he's gotten better and better for us, especially on the defensive end."
Rivers said he felt that Green played his best game against the Knicks in Game 2, even though statistically, the numbers belied his performance upon video review. "He's getting more comfortable with what he's doing," Rivers said.
At times, Green's looked lost, and he's yet to post an impressive stat line as a reserve in the postseason. But there's no doubting his talent is there. Paul Pierce, the man whom Green was brought in to relieve off the bench, recently told the media that Green can "score in his sleep." His 20-point, 15-rebound performance as a Celtics starter against the Washington Wizards when the regulars sat out on April 11 was a clear reminder that Green is top-flight NBA talent. So when he does finally master his role with the Celtics, the dividends could be huge.
"It's still coming along," Green admitted. "It varies depending on who we're playing against, and how things are going. I just wait until my name is called."
As the man who calls his name, Rivers sympathizes with Green's struggles given what he's been asked to do. "There were a lot of changes for him. Playing two positions, and a whole new system, that's a lot of change."
For the last week, the team's been practicing in something of a training camp setting, with consecutive days of practice and extra work for the team's reserves as they try to nail down the finer points of the Celtics' system. Green says that extended workouts are helping him to better define his own role.
"It's been great to get these practices under my belt to continue the progress from the last couple of weeks," Green said. "(I'm) just taking it one day at a time and trying to get better."
As much as it's a challenge and admittedly somewhat frustrating, Green certainly appreciates the opportunity to play alongside guys who are Hall of Fame-caliber talents in a run for a title.
"It's a wonderful thing for me because I learn a lot, especially early on in my career," Green said, noting that he's always listening when Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett or Rajon Rondo are talking about their careers, or guiding him on some of the finer details of NBA basketball. Green also realizes that while the Thunder opened some eyes around the league last season by giving the Lakers all they could handle in the postseason, the expectations in Boston are championship or bust.
"It's a whole different look (here) when you go in the game. The intensity is totally different," Green said.
With James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat on deck, Green is about to get a healthy dose of championship intensity. If the Celtics are going to beat the Heat and advance, at some point or another, Green will have to prove his progress.