NBA playoffs 2017: Nearly a Clipper last summer, Gerald Green rides to Celtics' rescue

Gerald Green played 22 minutes for the Celtics against the Bulls on Sunday, getting his second consecutive postseason start. He scored 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, helping Boston to a win and a 2-2 series tie, igniting an offense that had struggled to keep up with Chicago in its first two games.

Green had played just five minutes in the first two games of this series, missing two shots and knocking down a free throw. But coach Brad Stevens’ decision to insert Green into the starting five has helped awaken the top-seeded Celtics after a disastrous opening to the first round of the postseason.

But there is a twist to Green’s Celtics revival: It almost didn’t happen. Green, team and league sources told Sporting News, was all but signed by another team — the Clippers — last July before the Celtics came calling.

“I really believed that,” Thomas said. “We have so much confidence in him. I know when he is on the court, he spaces the floor, not just for myself but for everybody. Even if he’s not making shots, you have got to respect his shot because he is a hell of a shooter. I love when he’s out there, because he gives me space to go to work, and also another outlet when I’m in trouble, because I know he can knock down those shots.”

Green has had ups and downs in Boston this season, playing 47 games and averaging 11.4 minutes. That was mostly because rookie Jaylen Brown proved more NBA-ready than expected early in the year, and Stevens liked Brown’s length and defensive instincts off the bench. Green did put up 18 points, one off his season-high, in the Celtics’ regular-season finale.

But Green remained professional. He didn’t complain about lost playing time. He had a hunch his number would be called eventually, and said he sought to keep himself sharp throughout the year.

“I think you’ve gotta believe in yourself, I think you gotta put in a lot of work off the court to make sure you’re ready,” Green said. “You know the famous quote, sometimes you have to be ready so you don’t have to get ready. I do a lot of things that, it’s like, off the camera, that a lot of people don’t see me do. So, I just always try to prepare myself like I’m going to play even when I wasn’t going to play. And when I wasn’t playing, my thing is, I was always enjoying the team’s success, always enjoying somebody else’s success.”

Now, there has been a role reversal. The rest of his Boston teammates are benefiting from Green’s success. He might nearly have been a Clipper last July, but instead, he’s a happy Celtic this April.

(Getty Images)


Gerald Green to the rescue? Who would have thought?

CHICAGO — The Celtics thrashed the Bulls yet again Sunday night, this time by a score of 104-95, and now appear in total control of a series that is knotted, 2-2.

What gives, you ask? How could the top-seeded Celtics have looked so bad losing twice at home, then come to Chicago and rout the Bulls early and often in back-to-back games?

The conventional answer, of course, would be the fact that Rajon Rondo broke his right thumb in Game 2 in Boston and was on the bench tripping opponents and being his usual pouty self all weekend. It turns out Rondo is more valuable to the Bulls than Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, or Robin Lopez. Maybe more than Jordan in the old days. Perhaps there’ll be a Rondo statue outside the United Center someday. Clearly, he is The Franchise.

Or you could say that it’s simply the Isaiah Thomas Factor. “The Little Guy” took over this game in the third quarter Sunday and finished with 33 points and seven assists. According to ridiculous Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, Isaish was able to take control because the officials allow him to palm the basketball (Seriously? An NBA coach complaining about palming in 2017?)

But here’s another thought: This first-round series turned around in a good way for the Celtics when coach Brad Stevens went outside the box and inserted veteran journeyman Gerald Green into the starting lineup.

Green scored 8 points in Boston’s easy Game 3 win and Sunday he doubled down for 18 in a mere 23 minutes Sunday. He scored 16 in the first half. The Celtics went out to 20-point leads in the first half of the two games Green started, both Celtic victories.

“Everybody in the league knows that he can go on these runs,’’ said Stevens. “He’s a guy that you have to account for so it just opens up space. He’s going to get open looks and you feel really good about him getting the chance to knock ’em down. He’s a guy that stayed ready all year.’’

“The coach called my number when I didn’t even think he’d call my number,’’ said Green. “. . . I gotta be as geeked-up as I can. It’s better to be too geeked-up than not geeked-up. That’s my style of play.’’

Hardcore Celtic fans know all about Gerald Green, but casual fans will be forgiven if they’ve lost track of the 6-foot-7-inch forward.

We remember that he was one of the last kids drafted right out of high school, before the Calipari Rule (One-and-Done) changed college and NBA basketball. We also remember that Green is one of the greatest dunkers in NBA history, a pogo stick who won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a 21-year-old Celtic in 2007, then returned to the contest a year later and — in mid-dunk — blew out a candle that was resting inside a cupcake on the back of the rim. You probably didn’t know that he has only four fingers on his right hand — the result of an amputation of his ring finger after a gruesome accident while dunking when he was a middle-schooler in his hometown of Houston.

We always knew Green-the-NBA prodigy could run, shoot, jump, and dunk with the best of them. But he could not make himself an integral part of any NBA team. His greatest contribution to the Celtics before this series was his inclusion (along with Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, and Sebastian Telfair) in the massive trade that delivered Kevin Garnett to the Celtics on July 31, 2007.

Green, who wears No. 30 these days, wore No. 5 in his first Celtic tour, and ceded the digit to Garnett when the trade was made.

“I’m proud that I was the last Celtic to wear No. 5 before KG,’’ he said.

Green could do one of those Johnny Cash “I’ve been everywhere” commercials. In addition to the Celtics and the Timberwolves, he’s played for the Rockets, Mavericks, Nets, Pacers, Suns, and Heat. He played in the D-League with the Fayetteville Patriots, Florida Flames, and Los Angeles Defenders. He played in Russia with Lokomotiv-Kuban and Krasnye Krylia. He played in China with the Foshen Dralions. How can this guy only be 31 years old?

He did not start a game for the Celtics this year. He was a DNP for almost half the games. Stevens put him into the lineup Friday in place of Amir Johnson, telling us he wanted to make the Celtics smaller and quicker out of the gate. It worked. And it worked again Sunday.

With Green on the floor hitting 6 of 9 shots in the first two quarters, the Celtics bolted to a 20-point lead (41-21) for the second straight game.

Green’s most electric moment came in the third when the Bulls were rallying and we wondered if Stevens might have to call a timeout.

Instead, Green followed his own miss from the left corner and threw down a monster tomahawk slam. He could have blown out 16 candles on that one.

“That was a big one when things weren’t going our way,’’ said Stevens.

While Isaiah Thomas was taking over the game, Green spent the balance of the third on the bench with a wrap on his left ankle and another one on his right knee. He shed both at the end of the quarter and appeared to be in “put-me-in-coach” mode.

“He had a lot of wraps,’’ said Stevens. “I tried to put him back in there one time and there were so many wraps on there he couldn’t get them off. That’s why we have to start him.’’

Funny. And true. The switch to Green as a starter has helped the Celtics gain control of the series.

And when the coach of the Bulls is complaining about uncalled palming violations, you know the Bulls are a beaten team.


A nice surprise from Gerald Green, and other thoughts on Game 4

Three thoughts on the Celtics’ series-tying Game 4 victory over the Bulls …

Let’s start where it started: With another dazzling start by an unlikely starter.

Gerald Green played 47 games this season in his return to the Celtics, a decade after he was exiled to Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett trade. Most nights, he enjoyed having one of the best seats in the house alongside James Young.

And he started exactly zero regular season games this season – or two fewer than he has started in the Celtics’ last two postseason games.

Suddenly, he’s the modern-day Vinnie Johnson, a heat-check in human form. Green gave the Celtics a little spark in their Game 3 win, scoring 8 points in 20 minutes, including a pair of 3-pointer. But that was nothing compared to the five-alarm fire he unleashed on the unsuspecting Bulls in the first half Sunday night.

By the 9:21 mark of the second quarter, Green had 16 points, helping the Celtics jump out to a 45-25 lead. The Bulls eventually made a game of it and Green ceded the stage to a more familiar scoring machine, Isaiah Thomas, in the second half.

But he had one more highlight in the second half – a follow-up dunk of his own missed jumper – that put the Celtics up 8 with 9 minutes left in the third. Green can still break out those dunk-contest pogo sticks when he needs them.

They would not be even in this series without him. It’s a credit Brad Stevens for knowing how to deploy his personnel. But it’s a bigger credit to Green for being ready when he was called upon.

***

Was Isaiah Canaan on the Bulls before Game 5? Was he even in the league before Game 4? He was? Are we sure?

The record does show that Canaan played 592 minutes for the Bulls this season – or 58 more than Green played for the Celtics. So I guess he’s legit. And for a time Sunday, it looked like he’d give the Bulls a similar spark to the one Green gave the C’s.

Filling it at point guard for Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, who themselves were abysmal filling in for the injured (but lurking!) Rajon Rondo, Canaan buried a 3-pointer seven minutes into the third period to cut the Celtics’ lead to 63-58.

Canaan ended up scoring 13 points in 34 minutes, while rating a plus-11. Grant and Carter-Williams were a combined minus-21 in 12 total minutes between them, which means we’ll probably see a lot of Canaan again, at least until Rondo is out there playing with one hand like Carl Weathers in Happy Gilmore.

Of course, he was not nearly the best guard who answers to Isaiah to participate in this one. Isaiah Thomas had 33 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds, and he was especially creative finishing at the rim even by his own how-did-he-just-do-that? standards.

It was a remarkable performance, beyond even what we’re used to from him, especially given the engulfing sadness he’s been dealing with since the death of his 22-year-old sister Chyna in a car accident last week. It’s hard to fathom how he has the strength to do this, but he tried to explain his state of mind after the game. ““Being here is what makes me, I guess, sane,’’ he said afterward. “It makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

***

Marcus Smart finished with 5 points (on 2 of 7 shooting), 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He also had 5 fouls, a steal, a block, 3 turnovers, and finished plus-9. And as usual, the box score tells only a fraction of the story regarding Smart’s impact – negative early, and extremely positive late – on the game.

He hit a crucial 3-pointer with 3 ½ minutes left after Avery Bradley passed up an open look to find him, which I interpreted as a hint at the faith his teammates have in him late in the game. The block and steal were both pivotal second-half plays. And he had a huge tap-out rebound in with 2 ½ minutes left to keep the ball in Celtics’ possession, leading to a Thomas basket. He’s an enigma. He’s inconsistent. But he is, again, a winning player.

I say this all the time, but Smart has some similar characteristics to Dennis Johnson, another guy who could shoot 3 for 13 but the three makes would come when you needed them most. Right now, he’s the 1977-78 version of DJ, I’d say.

What else? He got into a beef with Jimmy Butler after a turnover, and while Butler seems like a tough dude, I’ll take Smart in that showdown without a second thought. Smart plays basketball like Rodney Harrison played safety, and in the end his determination and defense were essential in the Celtics’ win. This game was the full Marcus Smart experience, weird and typical at once.

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