WALTHAM — Off the top of his head, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge guessed that maybe 20 players have scored 36 or more points in a game at least twice this season.
He was close. There have been 18.
One is Celtics forward Jeff Green, who accomplished the feat within a span of two weeks, scoring a season-high 39 points at Washington Jan. 22 and then scoring 36 against Philadelphia Wednesday night.
Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Kevin Love, and others of that ilk comprise the rest of the list, which is a who’s-who of the NBA’s most elite and consistent scorers.
“I don’t see Jeff as one of those,” Ainge said Thursday. “I see him as a guy that is capable of scoring a lot of points on any one given night, but he needs help — like all players do — to be efficient and score.”
As the Celtics prepare to face Sacramento Friday at TD Garden, Green is averaging a team-high 16.3 points this season, but he has had wild swings in production.
For instance, two games after scoring 39 against the Wizards, he scored 8 in a loss. Even within games, he disappears for long stretches — even for a half.
But then there are nights when Green’s talent, speed, size, skill, and athleticism are on full display and he scores so much so easily that fans wonder why he doesn’t play like that more often.
“I think sometimes the expectations are unfair,” Ainge said. “I would like to see the lows be less low, but my concern isn’t on how many points he scores. My concern is him being a consistent defender and rebounder, just like all of our players. Everybody should rebound and defend every night.”
Before the season, Green was asked to be the team’s top scoring option, the player they could count on to fill the scoring void left after Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to Brooklyn.
At the time, Green welcomed the challenge, especially as it was pointed out that defenses were going to focus on him much more than before.
“Bring it on,” Green said at media day.
But almost immediately, a pattern of inconsistency emerged. Like a great sitcom, Green was on once a week, it seemed.
In late November, before a game against San Antonio, Green acknowledged he still felt like the Celtics’ “go-to” player, but the adjustment to that role was more than he initially expected.
“Now all the attention is on me,” he said. “I’ve been the guy who has been the third option most of my whole career. Now, it starts with me, in my eyes.”
The question, then: can a third option suddenly become a first option? Or are they forever a complementary player requiring other pieces to flourish?
“That’s a tough question,” Ainge said. “I think whenever players are asked to do more than they’re capable of doing, that’s when unrealistic expectations come in. Jeff has shown that on any given night, he’s very capable.
“And after you score 39 points in a game, or you score 36 points in a game, the scouts are going to see that and typically in the next game [defenses] are going to load up and they’re going to double-team you and take the ball out of your hands and they’re going to make it much more difficult and make other people try to score. That’s where we’ve struggled just as much as Jeff alone.”
With Rajon Rondo rejoining the lineup in January, defenses have focused more attention on the four-time All-Star point guard, whom Green said before practice Thursday was “another reliable source that we needed and that we have and that we can depend on.”
Green added, “All the focus isn’t necessarily spotlighted on me anymore. You have to know where Rondo is. You’ve got to do your studying on him as well. It’s just another weapon that we have that we’re glad to have back.”
But Green might be happier to see Rondo more than any Celtic, if only because Green believes that shots are coming easier now.
“Yeah, for sure, for sure,” said Green, who is averaging 16 points per game in the eight games he has played with Rondo. “That’s all a credit to him.”
It should also help Green that Rondo is nearing his old form, as Rondo nearly posted triple-doubles the last two games.
Still, it would be foolish to think Rondo’s presence alone can translate into Green producing more 36-point nights.
“Nobody averages 36 a game and shoots that way every single night,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “And so I don’t think it’s fair to ask anybody to do that.”
Stevens was then asked if expectations were too high on Green before the season began.
“I don’t know whose expectations you’re talking about,” Stevens countered.
The coach then said that Green has had a “great year,” which raised some eyebrows.
“Obviously, when people have 39- or 36-point games, that opens everyone’s eyes,” Stevens said. “But again, Kevin Durant doesn’t average 36 points a game. LeBron James doesn’t. People are going to have great nights, but hopefully he can continue to build.
“I think he’d be the first to say that he’s had some games and that he’d like to have some back. But also, he’s had some really good moments, too. I think sometimes we undervalue the good moments and over-exaggerate the bad ones. My job with him is to do a better job from my standpoint of helping him find success and find those shots on more nights than not.”