BOSTON — Jeff Green found the concept baffling. His good friend and former teammate, Kevin Durant, dropped 29 points against him, yet it was suggested that he and Paul Pierce had teamed up to make the Oklahoma City Thunder forward’s night miserable.
“He still got 37 points,” Green said, before he was quickly told Durant’s actual scoring total. “Close to 30, whatever. We just tried to make every shot for him tough. He’s damn near 7-foot, but the handle that he’s got and the way he can shoot, it’s tough. You’ve just got to make every shot tough for him.”
While Green downplayed his performance, his teammates and coach noted his contributions to the Celtics’ rousing 108-100 victory over his former team on Friday. Green had shown flashes of brilliance in the first 12 games of the season, but until the Thunder came to town, he had yet to register a complete game in which he was consistent at both ends of the floor. In leading Boston’s bench with 17 points, Green provided the occasional highlight but also hounded Durant offensively, as well as defensively.
As Green eases his way back in his return from heart surgery last January, he has seemed hesitant at times to assert himself and possibly upset team chemistry. Moments like his brutal dunk on Al Jefferson have been few. Perhaps the signature image of Green’s season thus far is him beating his defender with his quick first step, only to suddenly slow up or pass away.
Against the Thunder, Green’s hesitation was nowhere to be found. He scored all of his points on plays called for someone else, according to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, and did not score when his number was called. Rivers took that as a sign of Green’s adjustment to feeling the game. He attacked when necessary, not when Rivers told him to. The impact of Green’s aggressiveness on the team was evident in the final score, according to Kevin Garnett.
“Jeff makes our team better when he’s aggressive,” Garnett said. “We’re still trying to get him to be consistent. He’s dealing with ailments none of us have ever experienced, obviously, coming back from major surgery, so we just have to be very patient with that.”
But Green has not asked for his teammates’ patience. He exhausted any patience he had while watching the Celtics play a full season without him. During that time, he has said, he looked forward to being a vital part of the game plan like he was Friday, when Rivers was able to alternate sending the herky-jerky Pierce and the smoother, more casual-looking Green at Durant. The varying looks were effective in keeping Durant off-balance and led to him picking up his third foul with just under five minutes left in the first half.
“You want to make him work in everything you do,” Pierce said. “When you have a guy who can score the ball and is such a dominant player like he is on offense, you want to make him work on the defensive end. That’s what we tried to do, give him different looks with myself and Jeff. We did a lot of isolating on him in the post or sending him off down-screens, and that can be tiring on a guy who’s a volume scorer.”
There will never be any stopping Durant. Rivers mentioned before the game that true scorers can score anywhere, regardless of the setting or the system. Well before the jump ball ever went up, Durant was destined to score 20-something points.
With Green’s assistance, however, the Celtics were able to slow Durant enough to edge the defending NBA finalists. Against the second-best player on the planet, that really is all anybody can ask.