Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers could see Jeff Green hanging his head after missed shots, even as his on-court production began to rise. So Rivers, who has rode Green as hard as anyone about his inconsistencies and untapped potential, sought out the 26-year-old forward to deliver a powerful message.
"I thought early on, if he missed a couple shots, he's looking around at Paul [Pierce] and [Jason Terry] and Kevin [Garnett], and he almost felt like, 'I shouldn't take another one,'" explained Rivers. "What we were telling him was, 'Yeah, you should. You're one of them.' And that's really important for him to hear, and now he believes it and you can see it."
One of them. For Boston newcomers, there is no more daunting challenge than acclimatizing to playing alongside Boston's core veterans. Even the most confident of players struggle to carve out a role while determining how to share shots and complement the likes of Pierce, Garnett and Rajon Rondo.
To be elevated to the status of an equal alongside Hall of Fame-caliber players with championship rings is an incredible compliment, maybe as big as any Rivers can offer. But Green's play recently has been deserving of all the lofty praise.
Start with the basics: In the 17 games since Rondo was lost for the season, Green is averaging 14.8 points over 31 minutes per game, shooting 50.8 percent from the field overall. His plus/minus -- once maybe the biggest indictment against him given that his teams perennially performed better without him on the floor -- is a key selling point. Over the past 17 games, Boston is 2.6 points per 48 minutes better with Green on the floor compared to when he's on the bench, according to NBA's StatsCube. Individually, Green is plus-62 during that stretch (by means of comparison, typical Boston plus/minus leader Garnett is plus-56 in that same span).
But dig deeper and the numbers are downright jaw-dropping. Over the past 17 games, Green is averaging a ridiculous 1.046 points per play (252 points in 241 possessions), according to Synergy Sports data. If maintained, those offensive numbers would rank him among the top 25 players in the league.
Defensively, in that same span, his numbers may be even more remarkable. Green is allowing 0.694 points per play (129 points on 186 possessions), which is essentially in line with what defensive maven Avery Bradley (0.682 points per play) has posted this season and he ranks first in the league among those with at least 250 defensive possessions this season.
The bottom line: Green appears to be finally playing up to his potential and it's a big reason why Boston has won 13 of 17 games since Rondo went down and stands a season-high six games over .500 while making a late-season push for a higher seeding in the East.
Green further ascended to the designation of "one of them" on Wednesday night in Indiana when the Celtics ran a late-game set designed at putting the ball in his hands for a final shot. A poor pass from Garnett nearly spoiled his opportunity, but Green still converted a layup in traffic with a half-second remaining to lift Boston to a monster 83-81 triumph over the host Pacers.
Green shrugs off his uptick in production. Asked about playing with more confidence, he keeps the focus on team play: "Guys are just stepping up, that's all I can really say. What else is a team supposed to do? When one guy goes down, it's time for another guy to step up, and that's all we can do."
There are those that remain skeptical of Green. Some simply haven't been able to come to terms with the 2011 deadline swap that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City (yes, Boston misses Perkins' intangibles, but he hasn't exactly produced to the value of his contract extension). Others believe Green is still too inconsistent and passive for a player that inked a four-year, $36.2 million contract this offseason, this after missing all of last season while undergoing heart surgery.
There are plenty of reasonable grounds to nitpick Green's game. His rebound rates are still far too low for a player with his size and athleticism (including a career-low defensive rebound rate of 12.6 percent this season). His turnovers are up this season and Boston's offense still tends to lag when he's on the floor (the Celtics' offense is 7.2 points per 100 possessions better without Green on the floor, but that's somewhat diminished by the team's defensive rating being five points better when he is on the court).
Rivers still rides Green hard about playing to his potential, including in the first half against Indiana, where he got numerous tongue-lashings before his late-game heroics.
"Look, we're always on Jeff about being consistent," Rivers said. "I was really hard on him in the first half [against Indiana] because I didn't think he had his motor. And I rode him pretty good. He's responding to it well.
"I think this is the best stretch he's had because his confidence is sky-high, he's taking shots, he doesn't worry about misses any more. He doesn't feel bad."
And why would he? He's one of them now.