BOSTON (CBS) – Boston Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman couldn’t have said it better when he acknowledged the Miami Heat barely escaped Boston with a win on Monday night.
There was a playoff atmosphere for that Celtics-Heat tilt; an exciting but frustrating game to watch, and in the end, it was a heart breaker. It would have been so gratifying to see the Celtics break the Heat’s then 22-game win streak, but the story out of the game wasn’t the fact the Celtics couldn’t hang on to the lead during the final eight minutes — it was the emergence of Jeff Green’s game.
Green had a career evening, putting up 43 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks against a team that has won 23 straight. Miami also has the best player in the NBA in Lebron James, and Green spent the majority of the game trying to keep him in check.
Green couldn’t beat the Heat alone, but he sure came close.
I’ve been a fan of Green since he arrived in Boston, living through all his highs and his lows (and yes, there were a lot of lows). I waited patiently while he adjusted to playing in Boston, catching a glimpse of how talented a player he is while trying to convince others not to count him out just yet. Then he had heart surgery, and no one was sure how he’d bounce back. But 14 months removed from the operating table, it seems to me — and I’ve said it in my column before — the farther removed he is from his surgery the better Green gets.
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So now it’s pretty simple; Green needs to be on the floor. It is no coincidence he’s playing better without Rondo, playing with a lot more confidence and shining when he’s on the floor with lesser talents. He stepped in with 31 points last month in Phoenix as the C’s rested Garnett, and when KG was out with an illness/groin injury on Monday night, Green had the best game of his career. He’s finally proved he has become a player you can count on; a quick power forward who has found his range and will drive to the basket time and again.
After Monday night’s game, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra had some high praise of Green. “He was aggressive… he was making tough plays, and he was putting a lot of pressure on our defense. Give him credit.” Maybe we should finally give Danny Ainge credit for the bombshell trade deal that sent Kendrick Perkins to OKC and brought Green (and Nenad Krstic) to Boston. We may not always agree with the moves Danny makes (or doesn’t make), and as unpopular as the Perkins trade was in 2011, it’s working out. In March, Perk is averaging only 3.3 points over 26.4 minutes a game. Green on the other hand is averaging 31.8 minutes per game and netting an average of 16.9 points per game.
Who would you rather have playing for you today? I choose Green.
I can’t help but wonder if we got a peek at what could be the Celtics future on Monday night. The team has been like a real-life game of Jenga this season, with players removed from the roster one by one. First Rondo went down with an ACL injury, followed by Jared Sullinger’s bad back and finally another ACL injury, this time Leandro Barbosa. For a while the team looked like an unstable structure, but like Jenga, basketball is a game of physical and mental skill.
We’ve now seen who the Celtics are without Rondo, and it’s hard not to like what you see. Avery Bradley has made himself into a very good player (both on offense and defense) at the ripe old age of 22. Courtney Lee and Jason Terry excel at two-way basketball and we now know Green can score when given the opportunity. I think Monday night was proof that the new-look C’s can make it a game against any team.
Starting Wednesday night, Boston has 16 games remaining in the regular season. Green is among the top players on the team and needs to be on the floor as much as possible for the next month. That begins tonight when the C’s visit the 22-46 New Orleans Hornets.
The Celtics were stunned by the Hornets in Boston in January, falling 90-76- with a healthy Rajon Rondo. Now it’s time for some revenge, led by an aggressive — and confident –Jeff Green.
Tracy Clements is a weekend producer on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow her on twitter at @clementine_12.