Avery Bradley (23 points) was one of just two Celtics with more points than Gerald Green in Tuesday’s win over the Grizzlies (Bob DeChiara USA Today Sports).
There was an odd stretch of time from the start of the second period to the seven minute mark of the frame in the Celtics’ 113-103 win over the Grizzlies Tuesday night.
18 seconds in, Gerald Green took a feed from Kelly Olynyk and knocked down a 17-foot jumper. Innocuous enough.
Shortly over a minute later, the 30-year-old took a step back 24-footer to extend the Celtics’ lead to 9. After Vince Carter — a man 9 years his senior — drained a 3-pointer, Green responded with another 2-point jumper. At that point, it was becoming evident that Green was starting to feel some kind of way.
He found the net from distance one more time, dropping a 26-footer to put the Celtics up by 11 and sending the TD Garden into hysterics. He was subbed out for Jae Crowder 1:35 later, finishing the eight minutes of work with a then-team-leading 10 points.
He reentered the game in the third period, providing another spark in the fourth with an offensive board on the Celtics’ baseline, finishing with a contested layup off the glass. It put the Celtics up by six and coerced the Grizzlies into a timeout. He finished the night with 19 points in as many minutes with five rebounds. When he departed the game with 3:44 in the game and a five-point lead, the Garden crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Only Avery Bradley (23) and Isaiah Thomas (21) had more points for the Celtics than Green.
(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here)
With possibly Tyler Zeller as his only competition for player with most fluctuation in his minutes, Green’s return to the Celtics has been nothing short of enigmatic. He’s averaged 9.9 minutes per game this season, has been active for 28 games and seen the floor in just 15 of them.
He’s been lauded by Brad Stevens as a spark plug for the Celtics on offense. While on the bench he’s one of the most visibly active, between chatting with younger players and jawing with older opponents. On Tuesday he could be seen giving a friendly verbal lashing to Carter while on the bench as he was being guarded by Jaylen Brown in the third period.
In this current stretch, he’s now appeared in three consecutive games, the highest since a run of eight to start the season.
What does that mean? It means Stevens recognizes the value he has in the journeyman.
When Green entered the game with two and a half minutes left in the first quarter, he was the second man off the bench. Olynyk had entered the game a few minutes earlier and Green entered with Jonas Jerebko. Among a plentiful amount of other options — especially considering Stevens isn’t afraid to run exceptionally small at any point in time — he skipped over Brown.
That’s not to say that Stevens is by any means obligated to play the third overall pick from this season’s draft, but given Green had not played in the five previous games due to both a injury and Stevens’ discretion leading up to Friday’s loss to the Thunder, it was a compelling choice.
For all we know, Stevens may not even look in Green’s direction on the bench when they take on the conference-leading Cavs on Thursday. That’s what makes Green’s case so unique, there’s really no forecasting when he’ll appear on the court. But take a look at any team that has found deep success in the postseason, and on top of a wealth of talent, they always have the guy that makes you turn your head and think, “wow, he’s still in the league?”
Take a look at the most recent champions in the Cavaliers, who, deep on their bench had the likes of Richard Jefferson and James Jones. If you go back to the championship-winning Celtics in 2008, look no further than P.J. Brown, most notably his stunning 10-point breakout performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cavs. He was signed in February of the season and retired following the postseason.
These aren’t the types of guys that are going to take you to the Promised Land. In fact, their numbers will be far from staggering. But they’re the types that are nice to have along the way, especially for teams finding themselves playing well into May and June.
At Celtics Media Day at the end of September, Green delved deep into his time playing in Russia when he was in his mid-twenties. He capped the anecdote by saying that he came to the realization that he belonged in the NBA, regardless of the role. He stopped thinking about himself and redirected it towards thinking about his team. Ever since, he’s played for five teams in a variety of roles.
How far the Celtics go this season is yet to be seen, and speculation about where they end up is enough to numb the mind of even the most seasoned speculators. Like any other team, they’ll need their health and talent, sure. But don’t sleep on the value of a guy like Green.
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