Everyone who watched the Celtics edge the Cavaliers last night is going to remember Jeff Green’s buzzer-beating layup, and with good reason. It was a fantastic play, elevating around two defenders and scooping the ball off the glass as the final horn sounded. Not only was it Green’s second game-winning layup of the year, it was a big shot for the reeling Celtics, who are looking to stay afloat in the playoff standings without Kevin Garnett. So you are excused if that’s the play that sticks with you.
But another sequence involving Green much earlier in the game merits a second look as well because it showed improvement in a couple of important areas in his game.
The first: finishing drives to the basket with his left hand. On consecutive plays in the first quarter, Green drove to his left and finished layups off the glass with his left hand, which is a skill anyone who consistently watches the Celtics has been dying to see more from Green. Here they are (and once again, I apologize for how badly Synergy is recording videos at the moment).
I can’t stress enough how important it is that Green establishes his left hand dribble drives as a consistent offensive weapon. Against Miami, we saw what happens when a team puts a slower defender on Green, allowing him to go to his right, but what happens when a faster defender can deny him one direction? He needs to be able to score going the other way to avoid becoming one dimensional and thus easily contained.
But even if Green can go both ways, help defenders can stop him if he isn’t able to drive and dish. He doesn’t need to be an elite passer, just a sufficient one (which is good, because Green averages just 1.9 assists per 36 minutes and an AST% of 9.0). But this pass to Brandon Bass was the perfect way to read the defense and react accordingly.
Again, this pass is nothing incredibly flashy, but it shows an aggressive Green attacking the basket to his weaker side and drawing the defense to him as a result of his earlier layups. After Zeller leaves Bass, Green dishes to him quickly, and Zeller is out of position when he tries to rotate back. Bass scores with ease. Another possession, another instance in which Jeff Green shows how he can make a defense uncomfortable simply by making smart basketball plays.
Green was credited with five assists in last night’s game, which is generous when you examine them individually. The first was the pass above to Brandon Bass (clearly valid), but three of the five assists involved multiple dribbles after the pass, and two of those ended up in made jumpers. So there really weren’t other examples of Green’s passing on display. It’s also worth noting that Green threw up an uncharacteristic amount of mid-range jumpers, which are arguably always inefficient and inarguably always inefficient for Green. So the minuscule sample size presented above is nothing more than a flash of what could be.
Still. It’s fun to see a player doing the things that, if done consistently, would so clearly and tangibly improve his game even in a small sample size. And given Green’s usually-solid shot selection and his obvious interest in self-improvement, even small sample sizes can be encouraging.
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