It started with a dunk. With Jared Jeffries defending him, Jeff Green drove for the slam and drew the foul, an aggressive move to start an aggressive game, just seconds into the second quarter of a 96-78 Celtics takedown of the Trail Blazers Friday night.
The sizable final deficit was partly due to the ineptitude of Portland, partly due to the all-around game of Courtney Lee, and partly due to a season-high 19 points off the bench for Green.
Fourteen points came in the second quarter, in which the Celtics turned a 7-point lead into a 23-point lead, with Green coming within 1 point of equaling the Trail Blazers’ output for the period.
“We’ve just got to keep doing it,” coach Doc Rivers said. “One game, it was great. What we’re trying to get him to see is when he’s at the 3, he’s a power player; when he’s at the 4, he’s a speed player. And that’s how he has to look at himself.”
Two days after Rivers called his team “soft,” the Celtics weren’t. And in that, they were led by Green, who came out of Wednesday’s game with a sprained right knee but appeared recovered Friday night after missing practice the day before.
It was, as Green said, this simple: “Got to the line. Attacked the rim. Just being aggressive.”
That was what the team needed, as Green made four of his five shots from the field in that crucial second quarter, including one 3-pointer. He also went 5 of 5 from the line and added two steals and a block. In 23 minutes, Green finished 6 of 13 with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals.
It was only his sixth game in double figures this season, and just his second in the last eight games. He came into Friday averaging just 7.7 points.
“Jeff did a good job of running the break, getting easy opportunities for himself,” Paul Pierce said. “Instead of us pounding the ball to him in the halfcourt, I always tell him if he can get out and run there’s easy opportunities for him because he’s one of the fastest guys out there every time he steps on the court. He’s able to use his athletic ability.
“So he did a good job of that, staying aggressive throughout the night.”
It was even more important with Rajon Rondo serving the first game of his two-game suspension.
“We have to make plays,” Green said. “We have to have everybody step up.
“Rondo is our captain. He’s our leader. He’s not here. So everybody as a group, we’ve got to come together and pull together as a team, try to take his place.”
Green said his knee did not bother him and he expects to have no restrictions Saturday night in Milwaukee.
“It loosened up,” Green said. “I was on the bike prior to the game starting. I really got it loose. I feel good now.”
He looked good too, providing just what the Celtics needed on a night they were able to ride an early lead to an easy win. Rivers was able to rest his starters playing back-to-back nights, able to see what Green can do when he uses his talents in the way they need.
He managed to get to the basket, go at the Trail Blazers. That’s exactly what the Celtics want from him.
“That’s how you get going,” Green said. “That’s how you get a rhythm. So I’ve got to continue to attack, continue to put pressure on the defense.”