The long scar running down the center of Jeff Green’s chest is impossible to miss, an unwanted souvenir of the heart surgery he had last January to repair an aortic aneurysm.
On Friday night, it also served as a reminder of just how impressive his performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder truly was.
Green played a leading role in a 108-100 victory by the Celtics, scoring a season-high 17 points in 25 minutes off the bench. Nine of those points came in the third quarter when the Celtics built a lead they would protect.
“I thought Jeff Green was spectacular tonight,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s funny, I think the two plays that I called for him, he didn’t score. He scored on the plays that weren’t his, and that’s what we kept telling him he has to do. Stop waiting for us to call it and go get it.”
Green scored 5 points in the final 64 seconds of the third quarter as the Celtics took a 77-65 lead on one of the best teams in the league.
“I was aggressive, attacking the rim,” Green said. “Just trying to make plays. That’s what I’ve got to do, find my niche.”
The 17 points were the most for Green since April 11, 2011, a lifetime ago in the NBA. That he played against his former team didn’t matter.
“We won. That’s all I wanted to do,” Green said.
When asked a second time about playing well against the Thunder, Green laughed.
“It meant nothing. We won the game,” he said. “I don’t know what you all are trying to get out of me. It’s one game. Oklahoma is Oklahoma. I played with them, yes. But that was damn near two years ago. I moved on and I’m part of the Celtics now. This is where I’m at.”
Green, 26, used the time away from basketball after the surgery wisely, completing his degree from Georgetown while rebuilding his strength to get back on the court. He was counseled that it would take time for him to regain his skills.
“What he went through and coming back, it’s going to take him a while. It’s hard to play in this league after missing a year,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who as an assistant coach worked with Green daily on refining his game.
“He has to be patient himself. He’s a winner and he wants to do well and he wants to play well. It’s going to take him some time. Not too many guys can miss a year and have success right off the bat.”
Green was a starter for Oklahoma City for the better part of five seasons before he was traded to the Celtics in 2011 for Kendrick Perkins. He is more of a complementary player with the Celtics, but one who can change a game.
“Jeff is a really, really good player,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “His role is a little bit different here than it was with us.”
Green scored 5 points in Wednesday’s loss against San Antonio, his 16 minutes off the bench making little impact on the game. But on Friday he looked more like the player who averaged 15.2 points during the 2010-11 season before he was traded to the Celtics.
“When he’s aggressive like that, he’s going to give you double-figure games and getting to the free throw line and knock down jumpers. He just adds another dimension,” teammate Paul Pierce said.
Green also contributed defensively, using his length and athleticism to help make shots difficult for Durant, who scored 29 points but was 9 of 20 from the floor.
“He has the ability to put pressure on the ball,” Rivers said. “That’s something we didn’t know. So again, we’re still discovering guys on our team.”