CHICAGO — It was something Doc Rivers had been waiting for, and to spark the process, he removed two starters before Saturday night’s game in Milwaukee against the Bucks.
After a dismal first half of offense — 35.3 percent shooting (including 2 of 10 from the bench) and 10 turnovers — the Celtics were left with little to show for Rivers’s makeover.
The new starting lineup (Jason Terry and Brandon Bass in, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger out) was an indication that the cohesion process needed to be expedited, but Rivers wasn’t sure when that would occur.
The answer, the Celtics hope, is the second half of Saturday’s game, when they shot 52.6 percent and scored 57 points en route to a 96-92 win.
While Paul Pierce scored 19 points after the break, the most encouraging performance came from Jeff Green, who scored 10 of his season-high 12 points during the second half, adding to the team’s whopping 32 fourth-quarter points.
Green’s importance is undeniable, but he had been nonexistent through five games. Green was inserted for Bass with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter, and two minutes later rose up for a one-handed dunk, an uncharacteristically aggressive move. Green missed the dunk, but was fouled by Larry Sanders.
That sparked Green’s scoring barrage, as the Celtics repeatedly went to him against Sanders and the overmatched Ersan Ilyasova.
“I told Jeff, ‘Start to go to the basket more,’ ” Kevin Garnett said. “He wasn’t in the best rhythm, we all know that. I think we as a team are trying to work extra hard to get him [to improve]. I felt like after the dunk [attempt] he was a different player. He was going to the [basket]. He was rebounding with force.
“Jeff’s a really, really nice guy and some nights you just have to be a [jerk]. I felt like after the dunk he was aggressive. He was greedy Jeff, and when he’s like that he’s hard to stop.”
Green has been a man of few words of late, seemingly embarrassed by his lack of contribution. But Rivers and Green’s teammates are confident that he’ll eventually be comfortable enough to assume more responsibility in the offense.
“I’ve just got to stay aggressive,” Green said. “Once I am aggressive, that’s all that matters. I’m not going to get every call or make every shot, but as long as I stay aggressive I’ll be good.”
Rivers is reluctant to call Saturday night’s game a breakthrough, but he understands that Green needs to be more assertive and seize the role the organization has created.
“I think we forget that Jeff sat out a whole year last year, and just because he played well in preseason I think people . . . It’s going to take him time. It’s going to take him time to get comfortable,” Rivers said. “When he plays like that, we’re a better team. He made defensive plays, he got rebounds, committed some hard fouls. A lot of good things.”
Less surprising but just as welcome was the scoring of Pierce, who had been laboring, scoring mostly from the free throw line or 3-point arc. He entered Saturday night 19 for 54 (35.2 percent) on 2-point shots. He was 5 for 11 on 2-pointers against the Bucks.
“I’m trying to [get there], it’s coming along, my rhythm is really coming along, I was really upset with the one shot that I missed that [could have] iced the game,” Pierce said. “An open three, I usually knock those down. But it’s going to come.’’
The Celtics put it together in the second half Saturday night but they realize the offensive chaos could return just as quickly, especially in Monday night in Chicago against the Bulls, who are fourth in the NBA in scoring defense.
The Celtics not only have missed far too many easy shots, some players have been slow to adjust to roles.
“It was a good win for us, last week they beat the heck out of us,” Rajon Rondo said of the Bucks. “We came back and redeemed ourselves. The offense was moving and Paul was moving [in the second half].
“You’ve got to start somewhere. This is a completely different team. Our focus has been good. But [Saturday night] we had a bunch of challenges and fought through them.”