Messages are sent all the time in sports, messages meant to motivate. We typically think of these in the negative sense — such as trimming a player’s time — but sometimes they can be positive triggers, too. Sometimes, they can show some trust. Sometimes, that can be empowering.
Maybe Erik Spoelstra didn’t mean to send a message to Gerald Green on Friday in Manhattan, by starting him in place of the injured Luol Deng against the combustible Carmelo Anthony, even as the Heat had been routed in Detroit on Wednesday with Green serving as the fill-in starter. Maybe he just meant to keep his reserve rotation as intact as possible, with the rookie Justise Winslow continuing to operate as its defensive igniter.
But for Green, a player still trying to prove his worth to his new teammates, it still meant plenty.
“For me, that just give me so much confidence to go out and just keep doing my thing,” Green said. “Bring energy, energy, energy. Bring my athleticism, toughness. Put my hard hat on, and let’s go to work.”
The Heat hammered the Knicks for the second time in a week here Friday, this time 97-78, after mauling them, 95-78 on Monday. This time may have been more significant for two reasons, however. First, it came on the road, where the Heat had played sparingly and poorly so far this season. And second, they got something from someone whom they need to make the most of a second chance: Green, who outscored Anthony 25-11, combining with Winslow to fluster the eight-time All-Star into missing his last eight shots.
“They kept fighting him,” Dwyane Wade said of Anthony.
“Man, he’s a tough, tough, tough cover,” Green said. “He makes you work so hard on the defensive end, you hardly have anything left on the offensive end.”
Green had enough on both, making this a major step for a man who is fighting to show he can be part of a winning program. Green made quite the introduction with the Heat, leading the team in scoring three times in the preseason, but that introduction was followed by a regrettable interruption, a two-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, with four other games missed as part of a mysterious “illness.” In his first three games back, he missed 15 of 18 shots, with the Heat continuing to give him chances at least in part because of the scarcity of options, especially with Mario Chalmers now in Memphis.
But if Green can give Miami what he did Friday, even occasionally, he’ll be worth the Heat’s effort. His play wasn’t the only thing that was encouraging for the Heat. Goran Dragic appears to have settled his squabble with the rim, the one he’s been calling “cursed”; although the point guard didn’t get many driving opportunities in the halfcourt, he did convert a couple of contortionist layups in transition. Wade, coming off a 1-of-9 flop in Detroit, had four memorable sequences, including a Eurostep into a hearty slam and a ankle-breaking crossover into a stepback splash. And Chris Bosh, after another slow first quarter, carried the Heat in the second, scoring 14 of his eventual 20 points.
But it was Green who stole the show, not just with the spectacular — dunks and three-pointers — but with the simply solid.
Solid, with his athleticism, should be sufficient to make him a stopper of sorts.
It’s always been about the emphasis and effort.
“Like, for instance, I came into training camp, and I had Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, they were like, ‘Man, I love the intensity you’re bringing on defense, this is gonna make us get to another level, all the years we’ve been playing against you we’ve never seen you have this intensity on defense,’ ” Green said. “And that’s what you got to do. You’ve got to crawl before you walk. You’ve got to walk before you run. So I’ve just got to try to bring the intensity every day, be consistent, and then once I gradually do it for the rest of the season, people will be like, ‘This guy’s locking up. Oh, he did against this guy, too.’ ”
To their surprise.
“That’s my goal this year,” Green said. “When this year is up, I want everybody to be like, ‘Man, I don’t know what Gerald Green did, but this year, he was great defensively.’ That’s what I want to do. I want to show people that I’m not who they think I am.”
On this night, Spoelstra thought Green was more.
And he was right.