I'll preface this article with this: I love Paul Pierce. Sure, I've written stuff suggesting a Pau-for-Paul trade, but the bottom line is that I think he should retire as a Celtic and more importantly, proudly retire as a Celtic. That doesn't just mean seeing his #34 raised to the rafters and potentially being the all-time leading scorer of the franchise; it means leaving the game as a winner. The C's are currently mired in a four-game losing streak and a game under .500 and I hate seeing Pierce getting down on the team:
Paul Pierce says Celtics lack mental toughness
"I think we got pieces here," the Celtics captain said before Tuesday night's 95-90 loss to the Cavaliers. "We just got to come together. We got to figure this thing out. Can't get discouraged.
"I think that's the one thing this team lacks, that mental toughness, man. When we lose our confidence, I've never been on teams like that. We got to stay together, we got to play with confidence.
"Yeah, definitely, it hurts me to say that. It's like I really sometimes don't believe it.
"We get down on ourselves. We got to go out there and believe we can win every game. It's tough sometimes."
Pierce was reacting to warnings by coach Doc Rivers that roster changes will be made if the Celtics do not play better. Pierce said they are straying from the game plan, and the mistakes are costly.
"Everything revolves around playing hard consistently," he said.
"We got a system in place and a game plan in place, and then we look at the film and we aren't always following it.
"We don't have the discipline night in and night out, the consistency to maintain a game plan and play hard night in and night out.
"That's been our problem all year long and that's why you are going to see us go up and down until we are able to maintain that, have the discipline to play hard every night."
The Celtics got three games over .500 with a six-game winning streak, but then went into a tailspin, losing to New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.
"We went on a six-game winning streak that showed we can [compete for a title], but you got to be able to maintain that for 82 games," said Pierce, who went 3 for 15 Tuesday night and had 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.
"If a team beats our best when we're playing the right way, we're following the game plan, then you can live with it.
"But when you consistently lose when you're not following the game plan or playing hard, then that's frustrating."
A lot of people have been putting the slump on Pierce's shoulders. During the stretch, he's shot 18-58 from the field and only gotten to the line 13 times. For the season, he's shooting a Big Three-era low of 42.3%. Whether it's Father Time finally catching up with him or just a rough patch for one of the league's most versatile and consistent scorers, many fans have pointed to his poor production as one of the culprits of the team's inconsistent play. There have been reports that Danny Ainge has made Pierce available to other GM's, but so far, nothing has materialized. I don't think anybody's ready to make such a drastic move, but as Doc has suggested, maybe it's time to come up with some new combinations.
I'm not the first person to suggest it, but one move that makes exceedingly more sense to me as the season progresses is moving Jeff Green into the starting lineup (or in the least, putting Pierce on the 5-5-5 plan with Garnett). In Doc's current rotation, Pierce is getting his first blow around the 4 minute mark of the first quarter. Last night against the Cavaliers--coincidentally, Pierce's worst shooting night during the losing streak--Pierce played the entire first quarter. Although he's averaging the lowest MPG of his career, his shot is just off. Like I said, it could be a matter of fatigue or just that these are the dog days of an 82-game season, But I do think giving Jeff Green more responsibility and playing time is a good idea.
Hear me out.
Unless Ainge convinces somebody that Green's underachieving career in OKC and now in Boston is a blip in what will be the great career of one of the league's most athletic small forwards and his 4-year, $36 million deal is a bargain, Green is the heir apparent at the 3. Frankly, despite how he's played, I actually think Ainge still believes that and even more frankly, I believe it, too. At the beginning of the season, we have JG a lot of slack because he was recovering from heart surgery and that was one of the feel good stories of the summer. Then, he played so well in the preseason that we all raised our expectations of him. And now, 41 games into the season, this curious case of Jeff Green has us all befuddled as he's regressed back to the tentative player that got him traded out of the shadows of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden.
This will sound counter-intuitive, but this is exactly why I think he needs to be a starter. I don't know if it's because of his recovery from heart surgery or maybe it's just his personality, but there's a reluctance to Green's game. KG recognized that in the first two weeks of the season when he said, "Jeff's a really, really nice guy. Some nights, you've just gotta be an a-hole." I'm not sure if it's by design, but the only play Doc seemingly runs for Green is the wing isolation. Basketball-wise, it makes some sense: Green is a freak athlete and generally, he's going up against the opposing team's back up 3 or 4 and with his size and speed, he should be a match up nightmare. But most nights, Green cowers at those opportunities. He'll pass it back out or settle for fadeaways. It must be so disconcerting to his teammates when he does that because they know how much he can dominate. He's shown it in flashes, but you have to be consistent to be a champion.
However, there are those nights when Green just brings it. This is a pretty cool exercise. Go to mysynergysports.com and search for Jeff Green. His game log will come up. Now, go to any game where he's scored in double digits and click on the number under FGM (field goals made). What will come up are three (free) highlights of Jeff's made field goals in those games and I swear every time he's had a good game, it's always sparked by him taking it to the rack. For example, check out his coming out party against the Jazz where he scored 16 points and went to the line 7 times. Most of his touches are in the paint where he's coming off screens and cutting to the basket. That night was punctuated with this:
Jeff Green Posterizes Al Jefferson! (via NBA)
More recently, there's his stat line from his game against Phoenix: 14 points, 4 trips to the line. What ignited him that night were these back-to-back plays:
Jeff Green with Back-to-Back Throwdowns (via NBA)
Could Green do this from the bench? Sure. He has been, but just not at a consistent basis, but I think throwing him into the starting lineup with Rondo and Garnett not only helps his confidence, but there's the added benefit of playing with a stretch 5 that spaces the floor and pass first point guard in Rondo that will find a lane for him. Again, it sounds absurd, but Green isn't the best self starter right now, but putting him in the starting five would take the burden off of him to find his own offense. Really, it's the Brandon Bass argument. Along with substituting Pierce for Green, some fans have suggested starting Sullinger over BB. Unlike Bass, Sullinger is a very good self starter. He puts every once of energy into grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring on putbacks. That's it. Bass, on the other hand, needs Rondo to draw the defense to open him up for his mid-range jumper. Plus defensively, Green's no slouch. As Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston points out, Green ranks 9th in individual defense, a skill that would help against the LeBron James and Carmelo Anthonys of the Eastern Conference. If the Celtics are going to regain that defensive swagger, Green's ability to stop wing scorers can help tremendously.
From the Pierce perspective, there's absolutely no shame in being the team's sixth man. We had hoped that Jason Terry would be the instant offense that the Celtics lacked off the bench last season in the playoffs, but having a more pure scorer in Pierce would be the better option. He'll certainly still be a closer and with potentially fresher legs, a better one at that. At this point, it's just a matter of combinations. Pierce is a professional scorer that doesn't need KG and Rondo as much as Green does. Green may get there, but right now, he needs a push. Or an alley oop pass:
Jeff Green Brings Down the House (via NBA)