Heading into his first NBA game action in over a year, Jeff Green might have been afraid of going too hard and too fast too soon. When he checked into the Celtics' game against Fenerbahce Ulker (a 97-91 Boston loss) for the first time with 6:24 remaining in the opening frame, he hung back and found his comfort zone. But he established himself later as Boston's fourth-quarter rally fell just short.
Green collected just five points and a rebound through the first three quarters in just over 14 minutes, but he played all 12 minutes of the final frame and emerged as a go-to veteran in a lineup filled with rookies. Green put in 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting over the final 12 minutes, routinely attacking the basket and putting in difficult layups in traffic. He took charge of a unit that featured Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith and even Kris Joseph, emerging as the primary scorer. He scored Boston's final basket with 1:19 to play, cutting Fenerbahce's lead to 94-91, but Romain Sato buried a right-corner 3-pointer shortly after to seal Boston's fate.
Still, Green's fourth-quarter performance had to be encouraging for a player who'll be counted on for consistent production this season.
"Yeah, [Green] was very comfortable. He played with great speed," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told reporters after the game. "You could see he played well at the 3 and the 4, which was great. The last time we had him, he struggled when we switched him back and forth. Obviously we're starting to figure out his game as well, so that helped."
Rivers, though, dismissed the notion of Green needing to be more assertive for this year's team. Green's been labeled as a player who simply needs to do more for Boston in every conceivable category, but Rivers stressed that it's a sense of comfort, and not assertiveness, that will bring out Green's best game.
"I think we're making too big of a deal about this whole being assertive and all this stuff with Jeff. I really do," said Rivers. "I just think that he needs to get comfortable. When he came to us the first time, he never had a chance to get comfortable, and now he is. He plays the way he plays. He's a smooth player, and I thought tonight he was really comfortable, and you could see that, and I think that's from going through training camp. Jeff's going to be what you saw tonight. That's pretty good."
Green should be one of the preseason's biggest beneficiaries. Not only will the eight-game schedule give him a chance to fully work his way back from heart surgery and gain the necessary conditioning, but he'll have plenty of opportunities to settle into his role and figure out how to bounce back and forth between the 3 and 4 spots. As Rivers noted, Green struggled with that responsibility when he was first traded to Boston at the end of the 2010-2011 campaign, but a full training camp and preseason schedule should be exactly what Green needs to adjust and, eventually, thrive for the Celtics this season.