Commentary

C's need Green to surprise them

Celtics' erratic forward has 17 games to prove he can be an impact player

Updated: March 13, 2014, 6:21 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

There are 17 games remaining in a season in which the Boston Celtics have little to play for beyond the future. With that in mind, Jeff Green needs to utilize each of those tilts to force himself outside of a comfort zone he has struggled to depart.

Far too often, the focus with Green falls too heavily on his offensive output, which has benefited from him being a top scoring option playing heavy minutes for a transitioning team. In the 11 games since the All-Star break, Green has averaged 19.7 points per contest, which, if maintained for the season, would land him among the top 20 scorers in the league.

But Green is not affecting the game like most others on that same list.

Green needs to put his energy into being a more consistent defender, a more common distributor, and at least an occasional rebounder. Green must find ways for the Celtics to be more successful when he's on the court.

[+] EnlargeJeff Green
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsThe numbers don't tell the whole story, but this statistic stands out: The Celtics' defensive rating is 24 points worse when Green is in the game.

Because right now, that's not happening.

Make no mistake, very few Boston players, particularly the ones logging the sort of minutes that Green is, are putting up glossy numbers this season. But the splits on Green are striking.

In the 11 games since the break, the Celtics are minus-110 in plus/minus during Green's 407 minutes of floor time, and plus-41 in his 121 minutes on the bench. Boston's offensive rating is 5½ points better when Green is off the floor, and its defensive rating is a staggering 24 points worse when he's in the game.

Worried that trash time was skewing those numbers, we narrowed that look to the first half of those 11 games. Boston's net rating when Green is on the court was minus-18.6 (91.7 offensive; 110.3 defensive) and plus-13.6 when he was off the floor (108.4 offensive; 94.8 defensive).

Now, numbers don't tell the whole story. Kris Humphries also has some bad on/off splits in the post-All-Star sample, but the eye test tells you he's playing better recently.

Can the same be said for Green, who remains up and down with his production? When you separate the good from the bad, it's clear it has little to do with scoring output.

On Wednesday, Green put up a team-high 27 points, fueled by a 17-point third-quarter outburst, but he labored in the fourth quarter and, most notably, played 41 minutes and finished with only two rebounds and was shut out in assists, steals, and blocks.

Dial it back a night in Indy and Green, despite missing 13 of 16 shots, was excellent. He attacked the basket on offense and simply didn't get many rolls. More importantly, he took on the challenge of guarding Paul George and kept the All-Star swingman in check for much of the night.

This is going to be an interesting final stretch for Green. The Celtics are hoping to have Avery Bradley back for Friday's game against the Phoenix Suns, which means Boston might actually have its preferred starting five together for much of the final 17 games (save for the second night of back-to-backs, when Rajon Rondo rests). Some of Green's points will slide to Bradley (and Rondo, too, as he gets healthier).

With top backup Gerald Wallace out for the season after knee surgery, Green is going to continue to get hefty minutes. We know now that he fizzled in the so-called spotlight role at the start of the season when Rondo was rehabbing. But with Boston set to have most of its weapons available late in the year, this is a chance for Green to show what he can do in a more familiar complementary role.

If you step back and look at the season, an amazing thing happened. Wallace entered the year as the overpriced veteran who wasn't the same player, and Boston fans were begging for another team to take his bloated contract off the books. But Wallace, playing through bone spurs in his ankle and what would eventually be a torn meniscus, endeared himself to fans with his under-the-radar play. Wallace barely shot the ball at times, but he quietly averaged 5.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals over 24.4 minutes, filling up his stat line on a consistent basis.

Boston's 10-day imports -- Chris Babb and Chris Johnson -- have endeared themselves with pure hustle and grit. They knock down open shots when they get them, but it is their energy that is infectious.

Green needs more of that. The dunks are nice, the chase-down blocks are fun. But his energy cannot wane and he cannot disappear.

Green's very vocal group of pundits has quieted a bit this season, but not because of his play. Some simply appear resigned to the notion that there is no other level to his game, that he is who he is at this point. They'll read this and scream, "He's never going to change!"

With no pressure and no expectations, Green has 17 games to prove them wrong.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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