For all the criticism Jeff Green endures, it must be mentioned that he was great on Sunday. Not good. Not above average. Great.
The problem was, Anthony Davis was better than great. Much, much better.
Green delivered 39 points, including 12 in a furious fourth-quarter recovery, to give the Boston Celtics (22-45) a chance to win both at the end of regulation and in overtime. Without Green, the Celtics wouldn’t have been in position for Kris Humphries’ turnaround fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to matter, and the New Orleans Pelicans’ victory would have been secured long before the 121-120 outcome.
But Green and the Celtics ran into a player who is not just capable of greatness, but increasingly personifies it night after night. There’s a vast difference between playing great and, potentially, being great.
Davis scored 40 points and hauled in 21 rebounds and, indeed, if the stat line spoke for itself, it would have told the story of a dominant performance. Except it didn’t tell the whole story. It didn’t describe his cold-blooded go-ahead jump shot with one second left that could have won the game for the Pelicans (27-39). It didn’t show how Davis gobbled up six of the Celtics’ seven misses in overtime, assuring no second-chance points.
The only way to grasp Davis’ performance was to listen to someone who witnessed it in awe from the other side.
“I think he’s unreal,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I came into the game in January (against New Orelans) thinking he’s an All-Star, and I leave here after playing him twice thinking, man, if there’s 10 guys better than him in the league, I haven’t seen them. He’s really a special player.”
Green’s performance, especially his three clutch free throws to tie the game in the fourth after a boneheaded foul by Al-Farouq Aminu and his overtime three-point play following another head-shaking foul by Aminu, will get forgotten — especially if he comes out Monday night and puts up single digits. He almost won the Celtics a game on Sunday, however. His only flaw was not being Anthony Davis.
Two days after their coach harshly criticized their performance in the clutch, the Celtics executed better late in the game, for the most part. Then the final play happened.
The Celtics had battled back from a five-point deficit thanks to a 3-pointer by Jared Sullinger and the previously mentioned and-one layup by Green. They trailed by a point and had no timeouts left when the Pelicans prepared to inbound from halfcourt with five seconds left in overtime. The odds were against the Celtics, but at least they had a chance. All they had to do was foul and hope New Orleans choked at the foul line.
Everything came apart for Boston at that point. Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley ran into each other. Davis caught the ball and declined to take an open layup, but the Celtics oddly didn’t foul. Once the clock ran out and both teams left the court, Green stood on the floor an extra beat, his hands resting on his head in disbelief.
“We miscommunicated on a switch,” was about all Stevens said to reporters after the game to explain the sequence. Asked whether the Celtics wanted to foul, he replied, “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”
These sorts of things have happened to the Celtics this season. Even when they should probably lose anyway, they find ways to lose in ways that are weird. This one wasn’t a complete an utter breakdown in poise, but it wasn’t very good, either.