HARTFORD — Jeff Green keeps passing tests in his comeback from heart surgery. Green, the Celtics’ leading scorer in two exhibition games in Europe this month, showed he can hold his own against NBA opposition in the Celtics’ 98-95 overtime loss to the New York Knicks Saturday night at the XL Center.
Green scored 12 points, 10 during an impressive second quarter, as both teams went with their regulars in the first half. Green also displayed versatility, dunking twice, including a impressive one-hander over Henry Sims, followed by a 3-pointer on the next possession.
“Of course, I wanted be aggressive to the rim,” Green said of his one-hand slam for a 34-30 lead with 9:40 remaining. “I didn’t know who was there, and whoever was in my way got dunked on.
“It just feels good to be on the court and especially to do something like that, show people I’ve still got it.”
Green’s play has not been a revelation to his teammates, though.
“It’s kind of no surprise to us,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “I mean, Jeff is a good player. Preseason-wise, that’s got to be the best dunk. I say it’s No. 1 right now.”
Green was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm during preseason training last year. He was cleared to return and has been participating in workouts with the team since Sept. 4.
“I’m just playing hard,” Green said. “I’m attacking the rim, and sometimes you’re going to get blocked, sometimes you’re not. And I’m going to continue to do it.’’
Knick of time
The Celtic regulars built a 12-point lead in the third quarter before coach Doc Rivers began going with reserves. Both teams went deep into their benches.
The Knicks’ Chris Copeland entered the contest late in the third quarter and totaled 21 points in the final 19:43.
Veteran Jason Kidd gave the Knicks a 94-93 lead with a jumper and got two foul shots for a 3-point advantage with 1:29 remaining.
During the last “regular” season, the Celtics achieved a modest, but significant, goal by winning the Atlantic Division. And they had to be resilient to do so during a season distorted by a lockout and abbreviated to 66 games. That first-place finish allowed them to retain home-court advantage through the conference finals.
“I think it’s a good division,” said Rivers. “New York’s one of them. Philly’s improved; when you add a [Andrew] Bynum to your team, you’re a better team. Brooklyn improved. So it’s going to be a hard division. We preferred it the way it was two or three years ago.”
The Celtics will meet two other Atlantic opponents — the 76ers (Monday) and the Brooklyn Nets (Tuesday and Thursday) — before going against the Knicks again next Saturday in Albany, N.Y., and Philadelphia again Oct. 21.
Rivers turned 51 and Paul Pierce turned 35 Saturday, both greeted by a “Happy Birthday” rendition from the Celtic rookies before a team meeting in Waltham. “I got gifts — none from my players,” Rivers said. “I’m going to give them gifts — I’m going to give them playing time.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.