Brad Stevens surprised a lot of people with his decision to move Gerald Green into his starting lineup for Game 3 of the Celtics first round series against the Chicago Bulls.
Down 0-2, the move came across as one of desperation and, to a point, it was. When Stevens hinted at lineup changes last Wednesday, guys like Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller came to mind: Jerebko for his ability to stretch the floor and Zeller for his size underneath against the suddenly superhuman Robin Lopez.
But Gerald Green? No way.
When you break it down though, it does make sense. Green gives the Bulls another player to worry about defensively. Amir Johnson wasn’t doing that with his ailing ankles and even Jerebko only requires a hard closeout when he spots up beyond the arc.
Green poses a threat both off the ball and with the rock in his hands. He can come off a screen and drill a three, break you down and get all the way to the rim, or pull up for a mid-range jumper. All of those things—though admittedly some more than others—creates more space for the Celtics offense.
For example, Green finishes this play at the rim. But, in reality, he had three options on this play: score or dish it out to either Avery Bradley or Al Horford for wide-open 3s.
The pressure he puts on the rim with the dribble drive makes that kind of spacing possible; the defense has to collapse on him because he’s a threat to score in the restricted area. If this is Johnson he probably takes a look at the rim and then moves the ball. With no threat of a drive, the Bulls don’t have to sag off the Celtics shooters spotting up for three.
And while Johnson shot a respectable clip from long range during the regular season on a limited number of attempts (40.9% on 0.8 attempts per game), he’s not going to open up driving lanes for Isaiah Thomas because the Bulls can live with him making that shot.
Green is a different story. He’s shooting 50% from beyond the arc in both of Boston’s postseason wins and knocked down a respectable 35.1% of his 3’s during the regular season. Look at the difference in spacing here—both plays were Thomas drives to the rim.
With Green on the floor:
And with Johnson on the floor:
It’s hardly a coincidence that the play in the first picture resulted in a layup for Thomas while the second picture resulted in his shot getting blocked.
Again, that spacing is unlocking key parts of the Celtics offense that the Bulls had previously done a good job of taking away when Green wasn’t playing much in Games 1 and 2.
It also helps that, surprisingly, the Celtics aren’t giving up much of anything on the defensive end with Green on the floor. In their two wins, Boston boasts a stout 95 defensive rating with Green on the floor. Not to say that Green is a lockdown defender, but he’s not giving back defensively what he’s getting offensively.
Of course, it’s unclear what kind of role Green will have if the Celtics advance to the second round. However, it is clear that he’s been a massive difference maker for Boston versus Chicago when its back was against the wall here in Round One.
Score one for Stevens, zero for everyone else.