March 2, 2012
Game 35: Boston Celtics (18-17) vs. New Jersey Nets (11-26)
Former Celtic legend Gerald Green was in the Garden last night, coming off the bench for the New Jersey Nets in their 107-94 loss to the C’s. Green contributed 11 points and two steals in his second game since being signed to a 10-day contract off a call-up from the D-League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders. Green was last spotted in an NBA uniform in 2009, as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.
Drafted out of high school with the 18th pick of the 2005 draft (the last year that prep-to-pro players were eligible), Green would come to be regarded by many Celtic fans as one of the most egregious mistakes made by Danny Ainge during his tenure as President of Basketball Operations. By selecting Green, who washed out of the league after four seasons, the Celtics missed out on borderline stars David Lee and Monta Ellis, and solid starters/rotation men Louis Williams, Jarrett Jack, Hakim Warrick, Brandon Bass and Nate Robinson.
Ainge had no illusions that Gerald would be a key contributor out of the gate, and instead dreamed big on a player who might one day harness his uncanny athleticism and develop into an explosive scoring weapon. Shortly after the draft, Ainge had the following to say about the pick (original source, unknown; possibly Celtics.com):
We think he has a tremendous upside and he can fly. I will say on a downside he’s 19 and he’s not ready to win in the NBA … He’s just another piece for the future that has tremendous upside.
We have always said the three D’s – Deals, Development, and Draft – and this is the best player that we thought we had a chance. Rather than get a player right now who we thought could help us win a few more games, we’re trying to get the best player available.
Shoot and jump, I mean athletic, quickness, he’s the best athlete in the draft. He’s one of the better shooters in the draft. He does not have a great NBA understanding but I would say the same thing about some of the college players that were drafted ahead of him. It is not just about age, he’s just an inexperienced player who needs time.
He’s got potential. I see a lot of good things. I see him make good instinctive plays. I don’t know how much coaching he’s had, but I would not say that this is the answer by any stretch. He’s too young to even evaluate that. I don’t know that much about his basketball IQ because he’s so young, but I do want to add basketball IQ still.
Ainge’s thinking was in line with the conventional wisdom of the time. Shortly after the draft, ESPN’s Chad Ford described Green as a player with “superstar potential” with a “chance to be awesome”. A full year later, John Hollinger imagined that Green would’ve been selected five spots higher if the draft could have been done over with the aide of 20/20 hindsight.
Unfortunately, Gerald’s basketball IQ would not catch up to his considerable physical gifts. Green himself admitted to an unwillingness to listen, to apply himself to the task of becoming “a student of the game”. After appearing in 32 games as a rookie, Gerald would play in all but one during his sophomore season, starting 26 and averaging 22 minutes per. With the increase in playing time, he averaged 10.4 points per game, but saw his field goal percentage drop from 47.8 to 41.9% while the rest of his game stagnated. His biggest contributions were to the highlight reels.
Later that year, Gerald would win the Slam Dunk Contest. At the end of it, he would be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the package that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston. In this regard, the selection of Green was a success. He played his part as, in Ainge’s words, “another piece for the future that has tremendous upside”. The following season, the Boston Celtics won their first championship in 22 years.
Over the next two years, Green would bounce from the Timberwolves to the Houston Rockets to the Mavericks, then to Russia and back to the States. This year, Green has averaged 19.1 points and 4.6 rebounds over 22 D-League games. Last Saturday, he was named the MVP of the NBDL All-Star Game, scoring 28 points in a 135-132 victory. On Tuesday, he scored 10 points in 19 minutes against the Mavericks in his first game with the Nets. On Friday, he squared off against Paul Pierce and the Celtics in his former dojo, going five for 10 with three vicious dunks. Here’s how it went down:
The Gerald Green Chronicles: Episode One
“I talked to some of the Nets’ people [and] they like him. They’re certainly intrigued by his athletic ability and, again, a better basketball player, I think, than they expected, given what the reputation was.” –Mike Gorman
Gerald checked in for his first action with 5:37 remaining in the first quarter. On the ensuing Nets possession, he set up on the low block as part of an offensive set that resembled a box-and-one: two players on the blocks, two on the elbows, and Deron Williams running point above the key. Gerald set a pick for Anthony Morrow, who curled from his spot on the block to the wing, then cut along the baseline and out to the wing opposite. As he neared the perimeter, Williams hit him with a chest pass and he drained a rhythm jumper from 19 feet out.
With 1:57 remaining in the first half, Kris Humphries missed the second of a set of free throws. Unable to fully control the offensive rebound, Brook Lopez fired the ball off the backboard to keep the play alive. Gerald was well-situated to collect the carom just off the low block, where he sprung up to hit a twisting baseline jumper.
“Gerald! There you go, Gerald!” –Mike Gorman
At the 3:40 mark in the third quarter, extra-pist Celtics guard Rajon Rondo (14 points, 13 assists, five steals) got a little too cute with a driving kick-out off a behind-the-back fake (click here for an example). The pass was deflected high into the air, collected by Deron Williams, and fired up-court to MarShon Brooks. MarShon threw a lob to a streaking Green, who actually barked as he completed the oop with a vicious slam.
One minute later, Brooks found himself dribbling frantically above the three-point line, trying to find a play buried somewhere within the Nets’ half-court set. Gerald took off from the weak side corner through a wide open lane to the hoop, barking again as he converted Brooks’ top-of-the-key lob. At the point of impact, Gerald’s shoulders were nearly on an even plane with the rim.
Seconds later, Rajon Rondo flipped a lazy pass to Paul Pierce at the top of the key. Green anticipated the pass and picked it off, sprinting out into the open court and dropping the hammer one final time. With three dunks in the space of 90 seconds, Gerald was all barked out, emitting just a half-hearted yelp on the slam.
Looking at Deron Williams is a pretty psychedelic experience. Between the extra-large tattoos, the wheatfield hair, the beard, the headband, and the red, white and blue of the Nets’ uniforms, there’s just way too much going on at once for the human brain to make sense of.
At some point in the first half, play was stopped while the Garden’s floor crew cleaned up a spilled Coke. This prompted a brief dialogue between Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn about Coke spills, which prompted a rare mid-game cut to the broadcast table, which revealed the fuel for Tommy’s broadcasting fire: four liters of RC Cola.
The real story of the night however, was not the return of Gerald Green, nor was it Paul Pierce’s 27 points and eight assists, Kevin Garnett’s 20 points and 10 rebounds, or the rock-steady Chris Wilcox’s 14 and seven. The real story, as always, was Avery Bradley.
“See, Bradley is so intent on being a, quote, ‘point guard’, he passes up a shot. Now, watch this: this is his shot. You gotta take that. The shot clock was winding down. If you can’t take that shot, go sit on the bench!” –Tommy Heinsohn
On January 4, Avery had the first impactful game of his sophomore season in an 89-70 rout of the New Jersey Nets. In the six games prior, Avery averaged seven minutes per game and totaled two points, five rebounds and one assist. He looked tentative and uncomfortable on the offensive end of the court. In game seven, he contributed 11 points and two steals while thoroughly dismantling Jordan Farmar and company with his suffocating defense (click here for highlights). A week later, the Chronicles were launched.
We were expecting something of an encore from Avery in round two against the Nets. This was not to be. Though he continued to show improvement in his point guard play, particularly in making the right pass at the right time, his impact on the game was limited. Avery played an empty five minutes in the first half, but contributed a handful of notable plays over a nine-minute run in the fourth quarter.
With 9:13 remaining in the game, Avery drew the ire of Tommy Heinsohn off a catch at the top of the key. Curling around a screen from Kevin Garnett, Avery found himself with a look at a wide-open 18-footer. Instead of springing up for the shot, he pulled to a stop and reversed the ball to Brandon Bass at the elbow, who was well-covered by Kris Humphries. The ball was eventually stolen by Anthony Morrow, who drew a foul at the other end of the court.
At the 8:45 mark, Sasha Pavlovic sent a nice cross-court pass to Avery over the heads of Kris Humphries and two other Nets. Catching on the weak-side elbow, Avery had an opportunity to pop a shot off, but instead twisted and fired a pass to a wide-open Keyon Dooling in the corner.
As with the previous play, Avery passed up his own shot in deference to a teammate. In the first play, he passed on a good look to deliver the ball to a covered teammate (poor decision, lack of assertiveness); in this one, he decided against a decent look to find a teammate with a great one (good awareness).
Two minutes later, Avery executed a baseline cut of the type that we’ve lauded in past episodes, but haven’t seen for a few games. With Avery set up in the corner, Kevin Garnett collected a pass at the elbow. KG threw a beauty of a bounce pass to Bradley, who had slipped behind a neglectful Deron Williams to convert a reverse lay-in.
With 4:30 left in the game, Avery used his full-court pressure to create a turnover. Sundiata Gaines received an in-bounding pass and turned to see Avery crouched low before him. The two faced off for a moment before Gaines put the dribble down and drove to his left. Avery stayed in front and, on a cut back to the right, slipped his hand in and poked the ball away. Gaines raced forward to chase down the loose ball, charged into Bradley, and was called for an offensive foul.
On the ensuing possession, Avery gathered the inbounding pass and, from 35 feet out, drove to the hoop off a pick from Paul Pierce. As he approached the elbow, Johan Petro stepped away from Brandon Bass to fill the lane. Bass popped out to the extended elbow and Avery hit him with a cross-court pass, notching an assist as Brandon swished the jumper.
Here’s Avery’s line from the game.
The Celtics will square off against the resurgent New York Knicks, who we mistakenly pronounced dead in the water in Episode 11, on Sunday, March 4. Be there: swoosh!