BOSTON – After dropping the first two games in this first round best-of-seven playoff series with Chicago, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew he had to make a change.
He looked up and down his bench before eventually settling on Gerald Green whose presence has been pivotal to Boston’s resurgence in this series which is now tied at two games apiece after the Celtics opened with two losses at home.
Green’s emergence as a key cog in Boston’s recent stretch of success plays into the narrative about this bench being full of players who, when given an opportunity to play, step up.
It is a trend they hope to continue tonight in Game 5 when the Celtics look to take their first lead in their series against the Bulls. Figuring out who to inject in the starting lineup, much like it has been to figure who should be in the rotation, has not been easy for Stevens.
“That’s one of the challenges with our team,” Stevens said. “There was a lot of similar ability to impact the game, specifically off the bench.”
Injuries, illnesses and inconsistent play forced the Celtics to juggle its preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – most of this season.
And as the Celtics evaluated what did not work in Games 1 and 2, both losses, they realized in this series they needed to insert at least one more shooter to help better space the floor.
So the decision to go with Green was an easy one for Stevens even if it caught many by surprise.
In his two games as a starter, Green has averaged 13.0 points and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 50 percent (6-for-12) from 3-point range.
Just as telling was the fact that Boston had a plus/minus of +9 when the 31-year-old Green was on the floor.
Not bad for a guy who spent most of the season near the end of the Celtics bench.
"He gives us more space, especially myself," Thomas said. "You have to respect him. Even if he's not making shots, you have to respect his shooting ability. That's only going to help us."
Said Stevens: “There were times when Gerald Green didn’t play much all year and there were times when we really leaned on him to help us win. Same with Terry (Rozier); same with Jaylen (Brown), on down the line.”
It speaks to the level of trust Stevens has in his players whose collective talents, more than their individual skills, were critical to Boston (53-29) finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference this season and with it home court advantage for as long as they are in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But home court has been no advantage for either team with the road team winning each of the first four games.
“Wherever you play, you have to play well,” Stevens said.
Part of that improved play Stevens is looking for in Game 5 will center around the Celtics doing a better job defending without fouling.
In Game 4, Bulls all-star Jimmy Butler took 23 free throws which was the third-most ever by a Celtics opponent in a playoff game.
All those trips to the line forced Stevens to do a little perimeter defender juggling with his lineup.
“I usually don’t overreact to fouls,” Stevens said. “But Avery (Bradley) got his third (personal foul) in the first (half) and how important it was going to be for him to defend (down the stretch), that was important. And when Isaiah got his fourth (personal foul in the third quarter). We do the best job we can containing those guys without fouling.”
They'll need to if they are to take their first lead in this series with a win tonight.
“We know it’s a big game for us," Thomas said. "We’ll be ready.”