If eight preseason games seemed like an unnecessarily high number, the one Celtics player who stood to gain the most from the long warmup was Jeff Green. Following his long layoff due to heart surgery, the 26-year-old forward figured to need some extra reps to get back into game shape.
As it turns out, the guy who had not played an organized game in 15 months hardly needed any time at all. Few players have looked as sharp as Green, who added to his stellar preseason with a 25-point showing in Saturday's 109-98 win over the New York Knicks in Albany, N.Y.
Green claimed in a tweet on Friday that he is not back to full strength. Whether or not that is true, Green has stood out at both ends of the floor with a vigor surpassing anybody else on the court. The offseason training regimen he described to everybody this summer apparently was no myth. He is running, jumping, shooting, dribbling and passing as well as he ever has, and so far he is arguably the Celtics' most valuable player of the exhibition season.
Green's full repertoire was on display Saturday. He drained three 3-pointers in five attempts as part of a 10-for-16 shooting night and added six rebounds. He provided a defensive highlight when he tracked down Mychel Thompson on a one-on-none fastbreak for one of his two blocked shots and even spent some time playing a de facto shooting guard, as though Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and now Leandro Barbosa did not give the Celtics enough depth at that position. Now that Green is clearly ready, can we skip the final preseason game and the eight-day layoff before the season opener and just get the 2012-13 campaign started in Miami? Honestly, Mr. Stern, we promise few people will notice.
When the Celtics cut loose Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith and signed Barbosa, the roster appeared to be set. Kris Joseph has drawn compliments from his teammates and coaches for his performance in practice, which is pretty much the only place the rookie out of Syracuse has gotten enough playing time to make a reasonable evaluation. But do not eliminate Micah Downs from the conversation yet.
Joseph and Downs came off the bench early in Albany, and for the first few minutes Joseph clearly looked like the one who belonged. He moved a lot more confidently and dribbled, passed and shot more decisively than the hard-working, yet unsure, Downs.
Then Downs drew a couple of "oohs" with a step-through move for a layup and suddenly the Gonzaga product had a bounce in his step. Shortly after, Downs caught a looping outlet pass, took one dribble and curled the ball behind his back to elude a defender for an open layup. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's incredulous and impressed reactions from the bench were caught on camera.
We all had our warning when Christmas, the presumed favorite to earn one of the 15 roster spots, was waived: Do not assume the coaches have made up their minds already. Joseph could have more competition for the final spot than many people believe.
The Knicks appear to have an unwritten rule that every big man they employ must either be nursing a debilitating injury or be eligible for Social Security. Kurt Thomas, 40; Rasheed Wallace, 38; Marcus Camby, 38; and Amar'e Stoudemire, who is only 29 but is battling a bruised left knee, are all under contract with the Knicks. They could use an infusion of youth, even if that "youth" is only relatively youthful.
Chris Copeland has been described as a "kid" this preseason because he has never appeared in a regular-season NBA game. Copeland is actually 28, though, and he played professionally for five years in Europe after graduating from the University of Colorado in 2006. He came onto the Knicks' radar partly due to a strong 19-game stint with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBADL five years ago. Still, age ain't nothing but a number, as the Knicks evidently believe. Off pure performance in the preseason, Copeland deserves a spot on New York's roster.
Copeland torched the Celtics for 21 points in the Knicks' overtime win in Hartford, Conn., but then Saturday came and the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward showed the C's that they had seen nothing yet. Copeland matched his output from that game in less than 15 minutes of floor time in Albany and finished with 34 points in the losing effort.
Although he had not shown much against any team other than the Celtics — he scored seven points total on nine shots against the Raptors and Wizards — Copeland decimated Boston, particularly on the pick and roll. He showed he could roll to the hoop or step back for a jump shot — even a 3-pointer or two (or three, on Saturday) — and get to the foul line. That last bit contributed massively to his big nights against the Celtics. He shot 9-for-13 in Hartford and 9-for-9 in Albany, all with a workmanlike, physical game that the Knicks could use off the bench.