BOSTON —— He won't become a member of any Celtics "Big Three" in the near future, but nobody has come through bigger than Jeff Green as of late.
It was Green again who stepped up down the stretch for the Celtics, as they escaped a Detroit Pistons comeback to beat them for the first time this season, 98-93.
Boston led by as many as 18 points late in the third quarter before the Pistons scored 14 straight to trail by just four in the opening minutes of the fourth.
It was one of those games for Boston - a game in which they were exposed for exactly what they are: undersized and relatively helpless on the glass and in the paint. Boston allowed a staggering 25 offensive rebounds to the Pistons, which in turn gave them a 93-71 advantage in field goal attempts - although the Pistons shot just 36.6 percent. The C's were also outscored in the paint, 58-28.
The two sides traded baskets for much of the fourth quarter, but Green made a sequence of plays that summed up everything the Celtics were lacking all night.
Green ripped down a defensive rebound with under 4 minutes to play, found the outlet, followed the play, and put back a missed Jason Terry jumper for a dunk that put Boston up by eight points with 3:35 to play.
Again, though, the Pistons clawed back, trailing 93-91 with under a minute to go. It was there, again, that Green showcased his all-around game. Pierce found him in the corner for a three-pointer that found the bottom of the basket, and Boston led 96-91 with 45.3 seconds to play.
Just for fun, Green grabbed another key defensive rebound with under 20 seconds to play, that allowed Boston to get to the free throw line and seal the victory. He finished the night with a game-high 34 points (13-19 from the field, 3-4 from three-point range), six rebounds, and four blocks.
Paul Pierce, who returned to the team after a personal matter, finished with 17 points for five assists. Brandon Bass added 17 points and seven rebounds, and Avery Bradley dropped 11.
The Pistons were led by center Greg Monroe, who scored 24 points and grabbed a whopping 17 rebounds. Guard Rodney Stuckey had 22 points and power forward Jonas Jerebko added 19 points and five rebounds.
What they'll be saying: Two things: One, Boston absolutely, positively needs Kevin Garnett back if they want to do any damage at all in the postseason. Boston is just too small down low, and they simply won't be able to compete against any teams that exploit that - which should be all of them. Two, the one positive from all of these injuries is the emergence of Jeff Green. Green, who had a terribly slow start to the season, has arguably been the team's MVP over the last two months. His 34-point performance tonight is one of his best of the season, but far less surprising than it would have been had it come in December or January. Green is showcasing his versatility for the Celtics, and it appears that Danny Ainge may have seen something that nobody else did. Nine million a year over four years still sounds like a lot, but maybe not so much after all . . .