The Nets’ best rotation played only two postseason games before losing a key piece in Jeff Green. The Nets veteran — who suffered a strained plantar fascia in his left foot — will miss at least the remainder of the first-round series against the Celtics. His loss was felt in Game 3.
The void of Green’s versatility had its fingerprints all over the Game 3 loss Friday. Brooklyn’s floor spacing was restricted without Green on the floor resulting in stagnant offense other than the iso ball using Kevin Durant and James Harden which did keep Brooklyn in the contest.
“I think he brings versatility to us offensively and defensively,” said Kyrie Irving. “Creates some space out there in terms of our shooting but just like this season, we’ve had that next guy up mentality where guys have to fill in. It may take a game or two to figure that out but this is the playoffs. We got to figure it out on the fly and pay attention to detail.”
With floor spacing limited, the Celtics capitalized on double-teaming Durant and trapping Irving in the two-man game throughout the game. When Durant was doubled, the loss of Green’s aggressive rim-running was obvious.
The Celtics applied off-ball pressure when Durant was doubled to avoid cutting passes and in return, the Nets superstar commonly went iso or passed the ball back out ot the perimeter for a reset. The result: a stagnant flow when Brooklyn needed a basket.
Green — who was in a walking boot and with crutches during Friday’s loss — possesses the ability to play multiple positions and serve different roles, which is a coveted commodity in the Nets offense. The veteran forward has played 71 percent of his minutes at the 4 and 28 percent at the 5 serving as a small-ball center.
Beyond his aggressive rim running, Green is a threat from three shooting a 41.2 percent and 49.2 percent from the field — career-highs. In Brooklyn’s optimal lineup of the ‘Big Three’ and Joe Harris at the 4, his versatility helps mold the high powered grouping. Beyond that, his leadership and activity pushes Brooklyn’s gritty defensive effort.
Steve Nash is lightly experimenting with the filling of Green’s void. Nicolas Claxton has received an increased role but struggled in his first test. The Nets 22-year-old big — who had a relatively solid performance in Game 1 — struggled in Game 2 and in Game 3. He was inconsistent and was overmatched by the Celtics veteran big Tristian Thompson physically. Claxton finished the Game 3 loss with a -25 — second lowest on the Nets behind Landry Shamet — but it’s a learning experience for the young Nets big.
“Nic had an up and down night. [A] Young player trying to figure it out in a big moment. That’s going to come for Nic and we believe in him and want to support him,” said Nash on Claxton’s performance in Game 3.
Even with Green in the lineup, the Nets wouldn’t have had a high rebounding asset to restrict Thompson — who had one fewer board than the entire Nets team in Game 3. Of course, his versatility helps patch up that gap to an extent.
“I don’t know that Jeff, his strength is going to be keeping Thompson off the glass. But we certainly miss his versatility, his ability to play multiple positions and multiple roles,” Nash said.
Outside of Green, no player in the frontcourt can play five-out on offense and confidently switch 1 through 5 on defense to go along with his ability to space the floor and be a threat on the perimeter. While Claxton struggled, Blake Griffin was commonly left open with little pressure along the perimeter and had difficulty keeping Thompson out of the paint.
DeAndre Jordan — who hasn’t played in the postseason and hasn’t seen the hardwood in eight of the last nine games — could serve as the answer to limit Thompson along with Robert Williams, off the glass. The Nets head coach wasn’t definitive about using the near 7-footer, but he can be expected to stretch the rotation to experiment.
“Anyone can play for us. You look down our bench, we believe and trust in all these guys. There are probably not enough minutes to go around but we can always push different buttons and play different guys,” Nash said. “That kind of happens from judging the flow of the game standpoint.”
Green also brings a calming presence to the Nets — a valuable asset in a pressured postseason environment. In the end, Brooklyn’s “Glue Guy” is missed.
“Everything he brings in terms of basketball attributes and his physical attributes where he helps us in so many different levels and leadership. Jeff is sort of this calming presence where he’s a veteran guy, been around, and played in a lot of big games,” Harris said during Saturday’s practice. “He’s the glue that holds a lot of this stuff together and he’s definitely missed right now.”
Green averaged 11.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 27.0 minutes per game this season while boasting career-bests in field goal percentage (.492), effective field goal percentage (.590), three-point percentage (.412), and offensive rating (116.1) serving as a key piece off the bench for Brooklyn.
How much longer will he be out? The Nets said Green will be re-evaluated in 10 days from the time they announced he’d be out, meaning he’s eight days away but not from return, only from reevaluation.