Celtics Can Battle Heat For Eastern Conference Supremacy
The Boston Celtics showed they still provide problems for the Miami Heat on Monday night even without Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett on the floor. Despite the consensus that the Celtics are an aging, slow team, they showed that they can match the Heat by pushing the ball up the floor and beating the Heat in transition.
In the past, both Rondo and Garnett gave Erik Spoelstra and the Heat coaching staff fits because the Heat did not have anyone who could defend them even in a half-court offense. If Spoelstra put LeBron James on Rondo, then Rondo would be able to find a smaller defender such as Mario Chalmers on Paul Pierce or getting screened to free up former Celtic Ray Allen.
Jeff Green rose to the occasion in the 105-103 loss to the Heat on Monday and gave Celtics fans a glimpse of what could have been if Green did not have an aortic aneurysm in his heart last year. Like Rondo, Green can match the athleticism and size of James and Dwyane Wade. Green is 6-9, 235-pounds with the ability to be a top player in the NBA. These intangibles were why then-Seattle SuperSonics and current Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti traded Allen for Green during the NBA Draft in 2007. Green has never been an aggressive scorer despite leading Georgetown to the Final Four in 2007. When the Thunder could not afford to keep Green, Presti sent him back to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins in 2011. What Green gave the Celtics on Monday night is exactly what Danny Ainge and former Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan were saying when they received the most talented player in that deal. The Thunder may have benefited in the short term with Perkins’ interior defense and the lunch-pail mentality that he brings to the court. The Celtics were just unlucky with Green’s heart condition or else they could have went to the NBA Finals last year.
With Garnett out, Green had his two highest scoring outputs of the season when he scored 31 points against the Phoenix Suns on February 22nd and 43 points against the Heat. Green was inserted into the starting lineup in both games. The natural inclination is to put Green at the “4” while Garnett mans the center position. This would weaken the reserve unit with just Jason Terry as the only consistent scorer. Doc Rivers said defenses are not going to change during the regular season. Green thrives in one-on-one situations and he is better suited to play the “4.” Teams with size like the New Orleans Hornets are going to attack with their bigger forwards against Green. The Hornets continued to go to Ryan Anderson, who is 6-10, on Wednesday night.
In the playoffs, the Celtics could put Green on the court earlier in the game and play him 25-30 minutes. If the Celtics have a mismatch, they need to keep feeding Green the ball. Early on Monday night, Green missed a couple of shots early from the perimeter, but he was able to attack the basket. The Heat had trouble stopping Green when he went right. He is faster than most power forwards and centers. When smaller defenders are facing him, Green can use his size.
The Celtics will most likely have a nine-man rotation with Green, Terry, Jordan Crawford, and Chris Wilcox as the key contributors off the bench in the postseason.
Like last year, the Celtics could be the only team that stands in the way of the Heat from asserting its dominance in the league. All of the other teams that are ahead of the Celtics are either dealing with injuries of their own or they are not nearly as experienced as the Celtics. They will need the versatile Green to perform like he did and to hope Pierce and Garnett can stay on the court.