Commentary

Jeff Green starting to settle in

With increased assertiveness comes success for Celtics forward

Updated: December 9, 2012, 5:46 PM ET
By Greg Payne | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- A little more than a week ago, after Jeff Green contributed 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting in 23 minutes of the Boston Celtics' 96-78 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, the debate was on: Was this just another flash of production, quickly to be undermined by a string of so-so follow-up efforts? Or was this, in any way, a sign of things to come?

A betting man might have gone with the first option, given the inconsistency that had plagued Green for much of the 2012-13 season. But if the Portland game marked the day Green put his foot down on the gas pedal, he has yet to ease back on the throttle. Over his past five games -- the Portland win included -- Green has averaged 16 points and 4.2 rebounds on 54.4 percent shooting from the field and a staggering 57.1 percent from 3-point land -- all in just 24.2 minutes per game.

[+] EnlargeJeff Green
AP Photo/Michael DwyerWhether getting to the rim or hitting a corner 3, Jeff Green is on a roll over the past five games.

Compare those numbers to the seven games prior, in which Green averaged a mere 6.4 points and 2 rebounds on 36 percent shooting from the field and an unsightly 21 percent from beyond the arc.

Now cue the second debate: Has Green finally turned the corner?

"I just went through a slump," Green said after posting 16 points in the Celtics' 92-79 victory over the 76ers on Saturday. "Every player goes through one. Now shots are going in for me, things are turning the corner."

Pressed on what "turning the corner" has consisted of, Green offered, "Being aggressive, attacking the rim, getting to the free throw line, trying to make plays."

In other words, being more assertive -- a word that has almost fused itself to Green at this point. Fair or not, it's become the most efficient way of assessing a Green performance: Was he assertive? Assertive in this case refers to Green attacking the basket, cutting through the lane without the ball, utilizing his speed in transition, and not passing up open shots.

The Celtics often try to defend Green's subpar outings with talk of him not having a matchup advantage on that particular night, though the flip side of that -- Green boasting an advantage over his man -- rarely is mentioned after a strong performance.

The fact is, standing at an athletic 6-foot-9 with the ability to bounce back and forth between the small forward and power forward positions, Green should either be creating advantages for himself, or eschewing one-on-one play entirely and garnering open looks by moving more without the basketball and positioning himself for free shots in accordance with how the defense is rotating.

Over the past five games, he's struck a commendable balance between the two, and the Celtics are 3-2 as a result, but could easily be 5-0, with single-possession losses at Milwaukee and Philadelphia in that span. That's not to say Green is the only reason for the Celtics' minor resurgence, but his production certainly has helped.

"He's going and getting it," point guard Rajon Rondo said. "He's not waiting for his play to be called. We haven't called many plays for Jeff. He's going out there and making the right cuts, getting out in transition, knocking down that open 3."

The 3-pointers have been the icing on the cake. While Green arguably is at his best when he's going toward the rim, he's settled into a nice groove rifling in 3-balls from the corners. All three of his 3-pointers in Friday's overtime loss to the Sixers came from those spots, and his lone shot from deep on Saturday came from the right corner, pushing Boston's thinning lead back to 16 less than a minute into the final quarter.

"When you've got guys like Paul [Pierce], Rondo, [Kevin Garnett] and [Jason Terry] on your team, Courtney [Lee], I mean, you've got to respect them," Green said of his corner makes. "Teams are going to collapse when they penetrate into the lane, and you've just got to be ready to shoot. I've been practicing and practicing and practicing and shooting and shooting and shooting and they're finding me and it's going in."

More importantly, Green hasn't settled for the 3-pointers. When they've been there, he's taken them, but his recent marksmanship hasn't lessened his desire to get to the rim. In Saturday's win, two of Green's most emphatic plays were a thunderous slam in the lane early in the second quarter and a high-flying right-handed alley-oop from Rondo minutes into the final frame.

"I'm just trying to get open, being the highlight to my teammates," Green said. "If the dunk is there, it's there. If it's not, then I'm just going to try to get a foul and lay it up. I'm athletic. If I get to the rim, I'm going to try to dunk it -- dunk it on someone or just throw it in for two points. It's been going well so far."

Added coach Doc Rivers, "I think Jeff's just freeing himself up. He's starting to do it and it's been really good."

Factor in that Green, much like the Celtics as a whole, is making strides on the defensive end, particularly down the stretch in Boston's overtime loss to the 76ers on Friday, and it's beginning to look like he finally might be getting the hang of things.

Whether his struggles could be attributed to his adjustment process to Boston's system, his ongoing recovery after missing last season due to heart surgery or a combination of the two, Green seems to be on the verge of putting his slow start behind him.

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