If you told the typical NBA player that he'd just played the game of his life -- compiling 43 points on 14-of-21 shooting, plus seven rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals, and all on national TV against the league's best team, no less -- he'd probably be pretty thrilled.
Jeff Green is not the typical NBA player.
Of course he isn't. He spent four years overshadowed by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, four months being panned for forcing Kendrick Perkins out of Boston, and then a year recovering from life-threatening surgery. He's 26 years old, six years into a career that began with a No. 5 overall pick, and he's still trying to find himself in the pros. Of course, on the one night it looks like he's finally arrived as an NBA star, LeBron James and the Miami Heat ruin his night and rally for an 18-4 fourth-quarter run, burying the C's with absolutely perfect execution down the stretch.
When all the dust had settled, here's what Green had to say about the best individual game of his career:
"It doesn't matter. We lost. It sucks."
Yeah, that's about it.
Green was absolutely fantastic despite the Celtics' 105-103 loss at the TD Garden. He attacked the basket at every single opportunity, driving into crowds of two or three defenders only to finish at the rim and draw the foul to boot. His efficiency was off the charts -- with 43 points on just 21 attempts, his performance made high-volume shooters like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony look like chumps. And yet it was all for naught.
His teammates were impressed nonetheless.
"You wonder what he ate that morning," Paul Pierce said. "Or whatever he did that day. He needs to keep doing it, because it worked tonight, obviously."
"Jeff was terrific," said coach Doc Rivers. "I thought he played well the entire night. He attacked. You know what I loved about Jeff? I thought the first two, three minutes of the game, he was struggling. He missed a free throw, missed a couple of shots. The old Jeff may have gone away -- but he actually just kept going and kept going. That’s all we talked about."
This was Green's coming-out party -- with no Kevin Garnett on the floor, the Celtics' $9 million man had to take the floor with the starters and play 40 minutes. The burden was his to contribute more, and contribute more he did. But it still wasn't enough against the Heat, as LeBron and Dwyane Wade overpowered the Celtics down the stretch.
Perhaps even in defeat, the Celtics can learn something from taking the NBA's best team, now a winner of 23 straight games, to the final possession.
"I told our guys -- that was our first playoff game," Rivers said. "I was really looking forward to the game because I didn’t know how a lot of guys were going to react. Besides not winning the game, we passed the test."
With the real playoffs still one month away, the Celtics got in a great rehearsal run against the Heat tonight. It wasn't a win, but it was a fantastic performance for a role player who needed one, and it was a learning experience for a team that could use one once in a while.
"Overall, I'll take the game," Rivers said. "It was a fantastic game. I just don’t like losing."