The criticism paused when Jeff Green played to his potential, which at times seems endless.
And it often resumed the very next game, if not the next play or quarter, when the Celtics forward would all but disappear.
Throughout the Celtics’ 2013-14 regular season, which will reach a merciful conclusion Wednesday when they face the Washington Wizards at TD Garden, Green became known as a tease — a player as spectacular as he was sporadic.
The 6-foot-9-inch Green could light up the scoreboard, as he scored 39 twice and had 13 games of 25 of more points. Or he could somehow hit single digits, as he did in 14 games, 11 of them losses.
Consistency was demanded of the Celtics’ new go-to scoring option entering the season, but inconsistency became Green’s trademark instead.
Still, Green is averaging a team-leading and career-high 16.8 points per game and he hasn’t missed one game, a goal he quietly worked toward in his second season removed from open-heart surgery.
Looking back, Green learned a lot, but one lesson stood out.
“That I can’t do it alone,” he said.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has echoed that point multiple times, and Green expounded upon it by citing the absence of Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett, two Celtics icons who were traded to Brooklyn last summer.
“People forgot who we had on our team last year and how I was able to get so many easy looks, so many easy dunks,” Green said. “This year, we don’t have those guys, so by being the focal point of most defenses, it was harder for me to get open lanes and open shots. So I don’t think people realize that — what goes into each game and how I’ve got to try to focus on how I can get my shot.”
Facing a defense that focused on him was “definitely exhausting,” Green added. “You’ve got to work five times harder just to get a shot or to get the look you want. Sometimes I settle for jump shots because it’s hard to get to the paint.”
Defenses threw plenty at him.
“A lot of teams doubled me when I’m in the post, when a smaller guard is on me, off screens,” he said. “They trapped a lot, just to get the ball out of my hands. Or the rotations when I got the ball were quick and they overloaded the sides.”
Green said that it’s also been difficult to establish a rhythm this season with guard Avery Bradley in and out of the lineup with injuries for the last few months, and with Rajon Rondo missing half the season while recovering from knee surgery.
Beyond Bradley and Rondo, the Celtics also had other players come and go because of injuries, along with the fact that at midseason they traded two guards (Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee) who had played considerable roles.
“There’s no question that the transiency has made it difficult for him,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, “and at the same time, he’s played every game, and he’s had his moments.”
Stevens has defended Green all season, repeatedly saying that they don’t expect Green to score 30 every night and that to expect otherwise is unfair of every player outside of perhaps a small few, such as Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
“He’s a guy that obviously can do a lot of things,” Stevens said of Green, “and we’ve asked him to do a lot more probably than he’s done in the past with regard to ball handling and perimeter play and those types of things because that’s where we need him most.”
Stevens added, “I do think he’s getting better. Hopefully with increased continuity here and continued growth of our roster he will just expand and expand and all this stuff will transform into even better numbers from an efficiency standpoint.”
But being the focal point was new enough for the 27-year-old former lottery pick.
“People don’t realize that this is the first time of me being ‘that guy,’ ” Green said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to handle it.”
Rondo defended Green.
“It’s his first time being pretty much the go-to guy on the team, but what you can’t take for granted is Jeff pretty much played in every game and not too many guys can say that throughout their careers,” Rondo said. “From what he’s come back from, it’s been great, and he’s been giving us pretty much consistency in his play every night.”
As for being a go-to player, Rondo said the difference is the mind-set to deal with the pressure.
“But I think he’s handled it pretty well,” Rondo said. “The hardest thing in our league is to be consistent. There’s only so many guys, like a Durant, like a LeBron James, that can do it every night.
“Obviously, with the different lineups and not knowing who’s going to start one night versus the next, it isn’t the easiest thing to do in the world, but he’s held his head high and he’s played every night for us.”
This season, Green has played a team-best 34.2 minutes per game. But at this point last season, Green was often short of breath as his body healed from heart surgery a year before.
Then entering the offseason, he worried about pushing himself too hard, though he said he doesn’t expect that to be an issue entering this summer.
“It will be a little easier on my mind,” Green said.
There could be numerous offseason moves — “fireworks,” as Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said — which means that Green could be moved. But for now, Green is under contract through next season, when he’s slated to make $9.2 million. For now, he’ll have the lessons this season has taught.
“I learned a lot, as far as when to pick and choose, when to use my teammates to get open,” Green said. “But it varies from game to game and how defensive teams come at you, and you’ve just got to try to learn from the experiences you have.”
And whatever Green achieved this year will soon be in his rearview mirror.
“I always think I can do better. I’m never satisfied,” Green said. “But by me being able to play every game at the way I’m playing, it’s a blessing. I haven’t missed a game yet since heart surgery. Just hopefully, it can continue that way.”