- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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HARTFORD, Conn. -- Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green will kick on SportsCenter in the early hours of Sunday morning and -- in the most non-narcissistic way possible -- wait for the highlight of his spirited one-handed jam over a pair of Knicks defenders to roll.
If it looks half as good as it felt, he'll smile.
As much as Green has tried to suggest his health woes are in the past, he still has pinch-me type moments on the basketball court. Ten months removed from surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, a second-quarter dunk in a somewhat meaningless preseason game (the Knicks topped the Celtics, 98-95, in overtime at the XL Center) served as another milestone moment in his road to recovery.
"It felt good to do that," admitted Green. "After all that I've been through, man, it feels good just to be on the court and especially do something like that. Just show people that I still got it."
His coaches and teammates suggest Green is oozing confidence this preseason and that's what has allowed him to thrive in the Celtics' three preseason games. He certainly had some confidence attacking the rim like he did for his highlight moment.
Early in the second quarter, Green found himself alone on the left wing opposite the Celtics bench after taking a feed from Jason Terry. A pump fake got John Shurna off his feet and opened a lane to the hoop. A pair of Knicks defenders sandwiched Kevin Garnett under the basket and Green drove hard into the paint, but instead of going up at the near side of the rim, he swept through the lane and delivered a ferocious one-handed jam over Jason Kidd and Henry Sims (he didn't even apologize for the Georgetown-on-Georgetown crime).
While he didn't stick the landing, the Boston bench didn't deduct any points. His teammates spilled onto the floor, exulting for Green, who was busy picking himself off the baseline and scrambling back on defense as action headed the other way.
Green still hadn't seen a replay when reporters approached him in the locker room, but liked what he could remember from the moment.
"I wanted to see the replay, but the Knicks got down the floor, so I had to get back," said Green. "From the reaction, I guess it was pretty good. What do you think?"
When a reporter confirmed his analysis, Green smiled and added, "I wanted to be aggressive to the rim. I don't know who was under the rim, I just went up. And whoever was in my way, got dunked on. I think it was Henry Sims, who went to Georgetown, so I have something to brag to him about it."
Green has had plenty of highlight moments in his career, but some just feel sweeter than others. After his 2011-12 season was swatted away by health issues, he's savoring the moments that suggest he can thrive during the 2012-13 campaign -- even as pundits scrutinize the four-year, $36 million contract he inked this offseason.
So forgive him if he watches the SportsCenter replay to catch just one more glimpse of the jam.
"Man, I'm just playing hard. I'm attacking the rim," he said. "Sometimes they are going to get blocked, sometimes they are not. Tonight it didn't, so I'm going to continue to do it. There are going to be highlights, I'm going to be on SportsCenter -- that'd be nice. I'm just trying to be aggressive."
The dunk wouldn't be so noteworthy if it was his only shining moment. But Green scored 12 first-half points, including hitting a corner 3-pointer on the team's next trip down.
The Celtics want him to build off the confidence he's showing on the court.
"[Green] looks good," said Terry. "He's not hesitant. He's taking contact very well. And he's being aggressive, and that's what we're going to need him to continue to do. Just keep building his confidence, because when you take a year off, it's a lot different, but he's playing well and we need him to continue to do so."
Green's versatility affords Celtics coach Doc Rivers the lineup flexibility that he's only dreamed of in recent seasons. Rivers particularly likes pairing Green with fellow swingman Paul Pierce, allowing the Celtics to operate with big lineups (Pierce at shooting guard; Green at small forward) or small (Green at power forward next to Kevin Garnett).
Rivers even hinted that Green is likely one piece that will be on the floor with the core group of Pierce, Garnett, and Rajon Rondo at the end of games.
Green still needs to work on his defensive game. He struggled at times to keep Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony (23 points over 23:48) in front of him, but Rivers suggested challenging Anthony before he caught the ball would have aided that cause.
There's no doubt that Rivers likes what he sees overall from Green so far this preseason.
"I think his confidence is pretty high; he's been terrific," said Rivers. "We just gotta keep him going."
Jeff Green's one-handed jam Saturday served as a milestone in his recovery.