Jeff Green got lost on his way to the Garden. Fortunately he had his iPhone to help him out. “Man you get in those tunnels it’s no fun,” he said, echoing the sentiments of everyone who has ever found himself turned around in the central artery.
At the risk of succumbing to the obvious metaphor at hand, the new Celtic has also been trying to figure out what direction he’s heading on the court. “It’s just something new,” he said before the game. “In Oklahoma I played a lot of four. Here they’re putting me everywhere.”
Green is coming off the bench now, something he hasn’t done since the first month of his rookie season. He was a starter at Georgetown and he was a starter in high school from the day he started playing as a sophomore.
The adjustment period is normal – not only for him, but also for coach Doc Rivers, who acknowledged Thursday that he has not yet figured out what to do with Green. But with Glen Davis sidelined for a week or so with a strained knee, an opportunity presented itself and Green took full advantage in the Celtics' 107-103 victory over Golden State (click here for a full recap).
Back in his familiar four spot, Green was able to run with the other starters and he piled up 21 points in 28 minutes of action, including a couple of gorgeous fast break dunks off passes from Rajon Rondo.
“Especially when he’s at the four he can outrun any big in the league,” Rondo said. “I’ve been missing him a couple of games. I told we’d get on track and tonight we had a couple of connections. I’m looking forward to playing with him and learning his game.”
This is all part of the feeling-out process for a team that has grown so accustomed to playing with one another that its members knew every intimate detail of each other’s respective games. It helps that while they figure things out they are also winning games, and while Monta Ellis (41 points) threw a scare into the Celtics, the Celtics had enough to close it out.
The fourth quarter tension also gave Green a chance to work with the starters in crunch time, taking the role that Davis normally plays. That was the point of the trade in the first place – the ability to adapt and be flexible in different situations.
“When they went small, you know I usually tend to stay big anyway, but the way we were playing I felt we better go small,” Rivers said. “The good thing with Jeff is we can do that now. Teams go small, we’re good with that.”
Green’s ability to run and finish on the break offers another dimension that the Celtics have lacked.
“Well it was funny, we didn’t do anything, he just ran the floor,” Rivers said. “He’s a gazelle. I mean the guy can absolutely fly. And our guys know that now. There’s a couple of times that Kevin [Garnett] actually slowed down so he could run by them because he saw that he has his man beat.”
Green has already endeared himself to Ray Allen after he asked the veteran to take him out to dinner in Los Angeles to talk shop. Allen had plans, but he changed them. Sort of. The sushi was non-negotiable.
Along with Nenad Krstic the three talked about Rivers’ coaching philosophy. They talked about the different personalities on the team, especially Garnett. Green wanted to make sure he didn’t “overstep his bounds” with the combustible forward and disrupt his pregame routine with too many questions.
Allen came away impressed. “It’s rare having a young guy who wants to understand,” he said.
On the court, Allen had no doubt that Green would fit in.
“He seems very comfortable,” Allen said. “He’s not a guy that’s going to be shellshocked on the floor. He just plays the game. He’s a basketball player. I’ve been a fan of Jeff Green for as long as he’s been in the league.”
They have only scratched the surface, but with each passing day the trade looks better and better for the Celtics who have won all four of their games and are beginning to take control of the Eastern Conference while the Heat sputter against the tough part of their schedule.
Here are three more points:
DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS NEEDED
For as much offensive punch as the Celtics have added, there is the undeniable reality that their defense is going to need time to absorb the new players. The Warriors shot 48 percent and scored 46 points in the paint. The rotations that were once so automatic are now a step slow and there’s nothing that can fix that but time.
“I’ve been here only one week,” Krstic said. “From what I see in one week it’s just talking and good helpside defense and everybody on the same page. Kevin is a great talker and he’s helping everyone, especially me right now. They’ve been together for I don’t know how many years. They know each other pretty well and that helps a lot.”
In many ways Green is in the toughest spot because he has to learn quickly the perimeter aspect of the small forward spot and the down and dirty role of the four man.
“It’s a little tougher for Jeff because he’s doing two positions and they are completely different,” Rivers said. “The three rotation defensively to the four, they can’t be any more different. That is not helping him. We have to right now with Baby out.”
Green is nothing if not confident. Asked how long it would take him to pick the scheme up, he answered, “Tomorrow.”
It will take longer than that of course and Green fouled out before the end of the night mainly because he was trying to scramble to get in the right place.
“He was in the wrong spot, then he’s trying to get to the right spot, then he’s losing his balance,” Rivers said. “I think he had three fouls where he was just off balance. It will be natural for him eventually.”
TOO MANY MINUTES FOR RONDO
Delonte West is hoping to get back on the practice floor on Monday. It can’t come soon enough for the Celtics who had to play Rondo almost 42 minutes. That marked the third game in the last four that he had reached that mark and his fatigue was evident in the fourth quarter when he had to take himself out for a few minutes.
“The guy I’ve got to keep down more is Rondo,” Rivers said. “Even though he’s young, he’s still playing too many minutes the last four or five games. With Delonte out, that’s a lot of stress on us.”
Even with all the recent reinforcements, the one position where the Celtics are vulnerable is at the point. They’re keeping their options open, although Rivers said the team would likely pick up the second 10-day contract on center Chris Johnson, whose first deal expires Saturday morning.
That’s a situation that’s worth monitoring because they can’t go into the playoffs with any uncertainty behind Rondo.
A MOMENT TO APPRECIATE PAUL PIERCE
Of all the storylines Friday night, the one that got the smallest attention was Pierce’s game. He scored 27 points to go with eight rebounds and made all the little plays down the stretch. Pierce didn’t talk after the game. He said he was drained and he looked it.
Pierce is in the midst of his best season of the Pierce-Garnett-Allen era and he has shown no signs of slowing down. His shooting percentages are up, his turnovers are down and he’s been rebounding like he did four and five years ago.
For all the change that has happened, the Celtics' championship hopes will live and die with their four All-Stars and Pierce remains the foundation.