Commentary

Jeff Green lights up vs. Thunder

Celts' sparkplug stone-faced about former team, but performance spoke volumes

Updated: November 24, 2012, 2:39 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Just another game.

Before Friday's visit from some old friends on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jeff Green emotionlessly suggested that the game meant no more to him than any other on the 82-game schedule. And even after maybe his finest effort of the season, Green again maintained that stance with a dispassionate demeanor, even as reporters incredulously wondered how that could possibly be.

Dressing nearby as Green was peppered with questions, rookie Jared Sullinger playfully cackled and told Green to remain strong in the face of the FBI-like interrogation.

Oh, but you couldn't hide your emotions on the floor, Jeff. Our video surveillance caught you delivering an emphatic fist pump after you capped a season-high 17-point outburst with an and-1 layup in transition late in the third quarter.

[+] EnlargeJeff Green
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesFacing his former OKC teammates for the first time, Jeff Green exploded, scoring 17 points in his finest effort of the season.

And then there was that most damning evidence of all: Yes, a smile that you just couldn't muffle. That might have been the first time we've seen a Green grin on the Garden floor this season.

But called in for questioning about a potential motive, Green wouldn't budge in front of the bright lights and cameras.

Just another game.

"It meant nothing," Green said when pressed on the issue. "We won the game. I don't know what y'all are trying to get out of me. It's one game. Oklahoma is Oklahoma. I played with them, yes, but that was damn near two years ago. I've moved on and I'm part of the Celtics now.

"This is where I'm at. I respect what they do, I respect the players, but how I feel about the team -- I respect them, but my feelings are done with them. My time is done and I'm here."

Green produced his 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting with two rebounds, a steal and a block over 25 minutes of floor time in Boston's 108-100 triumph over Oklahoma City on Friday night at TD Garden.

His season-high six field goals included a rather ridiculous degree of difficulty. From laying in an up-and-under with block-master Serge Ibaka lingering near the rim in the first quarter, to muscling in a third-quarter layup with Ibaka and Russell Westbrook impeding his path, not much came easy.

Along the way, Green added a one-legged fadeaway to close out the first quarter and a loud two-handed slam when a little shoulder move left Kevin Durant sprawling on the parquet (and Green all alone in the paint) in the second frame.

And then there was an emotion-filled layup in transition off a feed from Courtney Lee that highlighted a stretch in which Green scored seven points and fueled a pivotal 11-1 run to close out the third quarter.

It was clearly Green's best game of the season, but asked if he'd offer that same assessment, Green simply barked, "No."

He did submit to the fact that he showed the sort of offensive aggressiveness that coaches and teammates have pleaded with him to maintain.

"I was aggressive -- attacking the rim -- just trying to make plays and got to the free throw line a couple times," said Green, who made all five of his free throw attempts. "Just being aggressive, and that's what I've got to do. I've just got to find my niche. And I've just got to continue to work at it and continue to stay positive and continue to be aggressive."

Rivers said his advice to Green on Friday morning was incredibly simple.

"I think when you're not playing well, you think way too much," Rivers said. "I told him this morning, 'Just go play. Things will work out. You may not play well tonight, and you may. Just go play. Stop thinking -- clutter -- just go play.' Basketball will take care of itself, he's played it his whole life. And I think he did that tonight."

Sure, but he did it against some old friends. That surely had to give him extra motivation going up against the Thunder, right?

"No idea," Rivers said. "But I hope, if that's what it is, we need to bring that Oklahoma jersey around."

Turning more serious, Rivers added: "Jeff wants to do well, it's not like he doesn't want to play well. He wants to do well for this team. He hears it, he knows it. And I thought he did it tonight."

Kevin Garnett has suggested, with one particular body-referencing expletive, that Green needs to play with a mean streak. But he wants him to play like that consistently and build off Friday's effort.

"Jeff makes our team better when he's aggressive," Garnett said. "Again, trying to get him to be consistent, him still dealing with ailments. None of us has experienced coming back from a major surgery like that, so we have to be very patient with that. But he played aggressive tonight, and it made our team better."

Argue it as he might, Green had a little extra motivation and it showed on the court on Friday. His effort and intensity might have ultimately been the difference as Boston emerged with a crucial win and avoided dropping below .500. The Celtics needed this one and Green helped them get it.

Just another game?

The Celtics sure hope so. They'd love Green to make this type of effort the nightly standard.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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