BOSTON — Less than one week ago, Gerald Green’s role on the Celtics was virtually non-existent.
The veteran swingman had played just three games in the past month (a total of 18 combined minutes) after an ugly first few weeks of the year. On a team devoid of reliable depth on the wing, Green was supposed to be a player that could be counted on for instant offense off the pine, but a hip injury and a shooting slump kept him on the outside of Brad Stevens’ rotation.
Instead of moping, Green remained patient in the face of adversity, supporting his younger teammates as they played over him. Ultimately, that patience and team-focused mentality paid off earlier this week when Stevens turned to him for a spark on Christmas Day. He came through with eight points in just 12 minutes, giving him some offensive momentum for the first time all year. That explosiveness has carried over this week as the 30-year-old is averaging 11.7 points per game in his last three contests on 59.1 percent shooting heading into Friday’s matchup against the Miami Heat.
While he’s earned some acclaim for the efficient offense, Brad Stevens is just as pleased at how well the 6-foot-7 wing handled the games when he wasn’t able to see any action.
“I think the not-playing thing can be hard,” Stevens said before Friday’s game against the Heat. “But it’s lessened if you’re a really engaged teammate. And he’s a really engaged teammate. The Miami people that are here will know this: He cheers for his teammates, he’s always talking in the locker room, he’s engaged at practice, he’s engaged at the practice facility. It doesn’t come across like it’s about him. It comes across like it’s about the team.
“I just think it’s easier to then be impactful when you get your number called because you’re already thinking about what’s best for the group. Kudos to him for being ready but I’m not surprised by the way he shot it or anything else because he’s just been really locked into that it’s about us.”
Erik Spoelstra coached Green in Miami during the 2015-16 season and confirmed Stevens assessment of his attitude during an up-and-down year performance wise.
“[A positive attitude] is something very important to us as well,” he said. “Gerald embraced that with us. Every place he’s been, teams have spoken highly of him. His teammates like him, his coaches have liked him. That’s probably the deepest form of respect around the league.”
The Heat elected to let Green walk in free agency after his one-year contract expired, but the team only has positive memories of the small forward despite his short stay in South Beach.
“We loved Gerald,” Spoelstra said. “He has a great personality in the locker room. Every day he enjoys what he does and that’s infectious. That’s what he is – ignitable. That’s what we used to say about him. We saw it before when he was in Phoenix, even if he wasn’t playing consistently. Regardless of how he’s playing from one quarter to the next, he can get on a roll. He can put points on the board.”
Those points have helped to put Green ahead of Terry Rozier in the C’s rotation for the time being. Since Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart continue to struggle from beyond the arc, Stevens will need his outside shooting stroke to help space the floor for the second unit. If Green can maintain the consistency he’s shown this week, he should be a fixture in Boston’s lineup for the remainder of the campaign, making his return to the Celtics franchise a story with a happy ending.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.