Note: This post is not meant to scream, JEFF GREEN’S GOING TO SCORE NO MORE THAN THREE POINTS EVERY TIME HE PLAYS THE MIAMI HEAT!!” or “THE CELTICS ARE SCREWED BECAUSE THEY’RE TOO MUCH LIKE THE MIAMI HEAT!!” It’s simply to advance the conversation about how the Celtics’ on-court relationship with their biggest Eastern Conference rival has evolved. I fear I sound more negative in this post than I intended. I apologize for my inability to make my words say exactly what I want them to. This writing thing is something I certainly have yet to master.
Based on their roster moves this summer, the Boston Celtics valued depth, versatility and athleticism above all else. They wanted to become more fluid and adaptable. Doc Rivers wanted more options. The Celtics wanted to be able to score, push the pace, run the floor and play pressure defense. They wanted the ability to field a small lineup that makes sense. None of the Celtics’ aspirations are negative, but perhaps becoming too much like the Miami Heat is dangerous.
Jeff Green has been mentioned often as the piece that helps Boston match up with the Heat. He’s the player with the size and athleticism to guard LeBron James — not to shut him down, of course, but to limit him, to make his presence slightly less terrifying, to make him work for his almost-automatic 27, 7 and 7. Green’s presence gives the Celtics the option to play a fast lineup with him at the four. He even played the five briefly on opening night, a new wrinkle I’m not sure Rivers employed once during Green’s first stint with the team. Green makes the Celtics considerably more versatile. Simplifying a very complex concept, Green makes the Celtics more like the Heat.
And maybe that’s not great.
As Paul Flannery wrote at his new home, SB Nation, “The reality is that the Celtics couldn’t beat (the Heat) playing their own game, so now they’re trying to do it Miami’s way.” He added later, “For all their new versatile personnel the C’s are playing catch-up to Miami’s defined lack of definition.”
Green is synonymous with Boston’s potential to become, like Miami, a “defined lack of definition.” He’s the one piece who impacts the Celtics’ malleability more than any other. He plays basketball without a natural position. In theory he helps Boston match up with Miami, but in practice, as Danny Ainge explained during an interview on WEEI, the Heat pose issues for Green. (via ESPN Boston)
“Jeff had a tough matchup the other night,” Ainge said. “We were playing him strictly at the 4, we didn’t really have any matchup advantages for him like he had in the preseason, and we weren’t trying to exploit those matchups, because LeBron was playing most of the game, the first three quarters anyway, when Jeff was on the court. So, I just think it’s one game. I didn’t think he was tentative. I think he went to the hole strong twice. He didn’t finish, but he shot four free throws, he missed a couple shots that he had made, you know, those driving right hand lay-ins that just didn’t go in. But I wouldn’t read anything into that.”
Green thrived in beneficial matchups during the preseason, and most nights his unique blend of size and speed causes mismatches. But he won’t ever cause a matchup problem if he’s defended by LeBron. By virtue of his many diverse talents, LeBron severely diminishes the impact of Green’s greatest asset, versatility. That’s not to say Green will always play poorly against the Heat, or that his signing was a bad one (the jury’s certainly still out). It’s just to say that he will need to overcome issues against the Heat which he will rarely face against most other opponents.
The Heat can certainly be beaten. They are not invincible. They have flaws. But maybe becoming more like them is not necessarily good for Boston, even if the Celtics have considerably more talent now than they did this time last year.