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Monday, March 18, 2013
Jeff Green wins 'em over in loss

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Georgetown student section used to serenade his mother with adoring chants of "Jeff Green's mom!" but the Boston Celtics forward cannot remember a single time in his basketball career when the crowd actually chanted for him.

That changed on Monday night when a not particularly creative, but nonetheless affectionate cry of Green's name reverberated inside TD Garden. Starting in place of an ailing Kevin Garnett (flu, adductor strain), Green erupted for a career-high 43 points on 14-of-21 shooting in a 105-103 loss to the streaking Miami Heat.

Multiple times when Green stepped to the free-throw line in the second half, the 26-year-old heard his name bellowed in a spot typically reserved for an MVP chant.

LeBron James
Despite scoring 43 points, Jeff Green was more focused on LeBron James' winning jumper in his face.

"Yeah, I heard it," Green admitted of the fans' unexpected affection. "It was a good feeling, but you have to try to stay in the game, stay focused and think about the next play."

Unfortunately for Green, the plays left at the forefront of his mind are not the nine attempts at the rim that found their way through the twine, but the two layups over the final 68 seconds that didn't fall. The defensive play that will linger isn't one of the two blocks against LeBron James with Boston clinging to a two-point lead with less than two minutes to go, but the putback that James eventually muscled in to tie the game or the winning jumper he hit over Green with 10.5 seconds to play.

So asked how he felt, personally, after Boston's biggest individual offensive output of the Kevin Garnett era -- matching the 43 points posted by Paul Pierce against the Knicks in April 2012 -- Green glumly offered, "I'm mad we lost. It sucks."

Did his individual play provide any solace?

"No, we still lost," Green said.

Despite the fact that the Celtics, who led by as many as 17 points and owned a 13-point cushion with 8:27 to go, couldn't find a way to end Miami's winning streak -- at 23, the second longest single-season stretch in league history -- Green will see his public approval rating skyrocket in the aftermath.

That's no small feat for a player that -- fair or not -- has struggled to be fully embraced here because he was traded for one of Boston's most beloved ring-wearing, straight-shooting hoopsters (Kendrick Perkins) in a deal that some contend defused the team's chemistry and derailed the 2010-11 season (and beyond?). As well, Green hasn't consistently produced to either his perceived potential or the $36 million contract he inked this summer after sitting out all of last season with a heart ailment.

But with one monster effort, Green broke down some of those lingering barriers. A city that needs little to embrace its own, opened up its arms by simply repeating his name over and over in support of his effort Monday.

Oh, those fans will want to see that sort of aggressiveness consistently, and Green himself suggested that you're only as good as your last game.

For at least one night, Green was spectacular, putting on a show the likes of which has rarely been seen in these parts since the turn of the century.

Even Paul Pierce couldn't help but laugh and shake his head while noting he couldn't remember the last time he was on the floor when a teammate put up a 40-point regular-season effort. (For the record, it was Antoine Walker's 42-point outburst against the New York Knicks on Dec. 11, 2001.)

"It's fun," Pierce said. "When you have a guy that has it going like he did today, you wonder what he ate that morning or whatever he did that day. He needs to keep doing it because it worked, obviously. It's fun to watch, to be a part of that."

"He's capable of whatever when he puts his mind to it," Pierce added. "He's shown flashes of what he can do throughout the course of a season when he's focused, when he's locked in, and that was an example of it today. We wanted him to stay aggressive, he had the matchup most of the night at the [power forward] position versus whoever guarded him, and he was aggressive the whole night. And that's what we need from him."

Green erupted for 26 first-half points, making nine of his first 12 shots in what at times seemed like a layup line against a Miami defense that offered little resistance to him getting to the rim.

"[Green] was locked in," Miami's Dwyane Wade admitted. "I think he's a very good player. … He was on fire. He just came out very aggressive."

"He had a tremendous game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra added. "He played great, he was aggressive, he was making tough plays, and he was putting a lot of pressure on our defense.

"Give him credit, the guy [has] been through a lot. Even as competitors you don't want to see anybody out like that through some of the ailments he's been through. I know it had been a tough year for him last year. I'm just glad he had a big night on one of our wins."

While Green has been steadily emerging in recent weeks, Rivers admitted he sees a different player when Green plays with the confidence he exuded on Monday.

"[Early on he] missed a free throw, missed a couple of shots and you know the old Jeff may have gone away," Rivers said. "He actually just kept going and kept going, and that's all we talked about. Once he realized he had an advantage, he took advantage. That was great.

"That's why the one play we drew up [at the end of the game] gave him a quick [isolation] and he got all the way to the basket. Shane Battier made a hell of a play. You've got to give him credit there, but we liked where he was at."

A couple of weeks removed from hitting a game-winner in a potential playoff preview in Indiana, Green again had the ball put in his hands for a crunch-time opportunity against the East-leading Heat. He drove hard down the right side of the lane with the clock showing single digits, but Battier came up with a block with seven seconds to play. Pierce missed a fadeaway 3-pointer soon after, sealing Boston's fate.

Not all those shots are going to fall, but good things happen when Green is aggressive. His veteran teammates continue to plead with him to maintain that fire.

"He just has to continue to be aggressive," Jason Terry said. "We've said it all year long: When Jeff Green is aggressive, he's just as good as everybody else out there. So we look for him to continue to do so, take advantage of the matchups out there. Because on any given night, he's the most athletic player on the floor."

And on this night, he was the most beloved player on the floor. The chants proved it.