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No stop sign: Green means go

In spotlight, he aims to make every minute count

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 15, 2011

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At this point, in another city on another team embarking on a completely different kind of playoff run, the play probably seems as if it happened a lifetime ago.

But Jeff Green is barely a year removed from the biggest postseason game of his life — Game 6 of Oklahoma City’s first-round series against the Lakers — and one play still sticks out.

“That last game, we played our hearts out,’’ Green said. “It was just one specific play — not getting a rebound — and that sticks out big in the series and how they won.’’

For two weeks, Oklahoma City Arena turned into Cameron Indoor Stadium. All the blue T-shirts and all the white Thunderstix made the crowd look strobe-lit.

The Thunder had become the darlings of the playoffs by scaring the life out of the top-seeded Lakers.

The Thunder were down, three games to two, playing on their home floor, and the intensity had increased to the point where Kobe Bryant started showing his teeth after every shot.

In this case, it was a step-back jumper (degree of difficulty: 9) that he drilled with Nick Collison sliding across the floor trying to chase him and Kevin Durant stretched out trying to get so much as a fingertip on the ball.

The shot cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 94-93 with 2:11 left.

Still, a 1-point lead, thin as it was, made everyone in the building feel the Thunder could cash in on the house money they were playing with. It made it seem like a Game 7 against the defending champions was within reach.

It’s almost funny, looking back.

“Every possession counts,’’ Green said. “You can’t relax. That’s the biggest part.’’

Down to the last 17 seconds, the score hadn’t changed. Bryant had just grabbed a rebound and started weaving his way down the floor, looking for a shot.

He cleared everyone out of his way, and as Pau Gasol moved to the other side of the floor, Green gave him a little nudge, pointed at his teammates to make sure they had everyone boxed out, then drifted away near the free throw line.

Bryant raised for a fadeaway, and Green watched it hit the back of the rim. Then he watched Gasol guide it back in.

Gasol turned around directly in front of Green, clenching his fists, celebrating the basket that cut Oklahoma City’s Cinderella run short.

“You learn a lot from that experience,’’ said Green, who is now with the Celtics as they prepare to begin the playoffs against the Knicks Sunday. “You’ve got to value the ball and value every possession. That was just one of the things you wish you could do, but it happened and you just move on.’’

Focus of trade The Celtics are not the Thunder.

The Thunder lost to the Lakers in six games and it was a franchise-defining turning point. The Celtics lost to the Lakers in seven games, and it was their most devastating loss in more than two decades.

The series against the Knicks will likely be high on drama, but the Celtics are not playing with house money. In fact, they’re playing with the league’s fourth-highest payroll and an admittedly small championship window. They’re an investment, not a dice roll.

They had been playing with a proven formula, and when Kendrick Perkins returned in January, they had all five starters from the team that won the title in 2008.

Then they erased the chalk from the board.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge traded Perkins and Nate Robinson for Nenad Krstic and Green.

Green was the headliner in the trade, young (24) and versatile (he can shoot, post, defend, and rebound). He was supposed to give the Celtics a dimension they hadn’t seen since James Posey left after the championship season.

The Celtics were 41-14 the day of the trade. They went 15-12 after that. Every loss seemed like a chance to second-guess the trade, and by extension Green, whose minutes and role fluctuated from game to game.

On the outside, there was a lot of buyer’s remorse.

“I jokingly told Perk he should renegotiate again,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “His value keeps increasing with each loss.’’

Green brushes off the constant second-guessing.

“When we win, everything’s fine,’’ he said. “When we lose, everybody’s got something to say. So we’re just going to have to win so we can shut everybody up.’’

The post-trade shock, he said, passed as soon as he arrived.

“It happened,’’ said Green. “You can’t turn back time now. You’ve got to move forward. That’s what we’ve been doing.

“I have an opportunity to win a championship — that’s all I was thinking. I’m going to a great team, already established. I’m just going out there, trying to play my game the best I can.’’

Adjustment time Green’s numbers are down (15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in Oklahoma City compared with 9.8 and 3.3 in Boston), but so are his minutes (37 to 23.5). And after starting 260 of his 289 games with Oklahoma City (including all 82 last season and 49 straight this season), he spent more time on the bench in Boston than he had since his rookie season.

“Jeff’s adjustment has been tough for him,’’ Rivers said. “For the first time in his life, he hasn’t played a ton of minutes. I think that’s far tougher than people think. Jeff’s never not started, for the most part.

“For the most part, he’s been a high-minute guy. He’s trying to figure that out. Even when he’s on the floor, he’s trying to figure out if he’s supposed to be the go-to guy, the scorer.’’

Green never had an issue deferring to Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s rising stars. He’s done the same thing behind Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.

“It’s been good, I’ve been learning a lot,’’ Green said. “We’ve got some crafty veterans here. I’ve been learning a lot from them, just simple things to help me get better at situational stuff.’’

Making that adjustment while trying to learn two positions has been a challenge for Green, and for Rivers. Last month against the Knicks, Green found himself guarding Carmelo Anthony and then Amar’e Stoudemire within a matter of possessions. He understands the Celtics need his versatility.

“Every position allows me to play and use the advantages I have to try to help this team win,’’ Green said. “I’m just going out there to play basketball.’’

If anyone knows how difficult it is to bounce between roles, it’s Glen Davis, who has swung from guarding Rashard Lewis on the perimeter to Dwight Howard in the paint when the Celtics play Orlando.

“It’s hard to adjust sometimes,’’ said Davis. “You’ve just got to do it. Point-blank you’ve got to make it happen. You’ve got to find it. There’s no excuses.

“It’s tough, but it’s just something you have to do. When he finds out what his role truly is, he’ll be OK.’’

From one night to the next, his matchups will change throughout the playoffs. The magnifying glass will get bigger as the games do. But after last postseason, he has learned to take each play, each possession, each game by itself.

“We treat every game like a big game, because every game counts,’’ Green said. “That’s how I look at it.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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