HOUSTON — Gerald Green, a journeyman who was unemployed until a week ago, didn’t hesitate for even a split-second when a switch resulted in Draymond Green defending him. Green just raised up and knocked down a 3-pointer over the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Hey, Green had plenty of practice facing a ferocious defender in the two-and-a-half months that passed between the mid-October day when the Milwaukee Bucks made him their final cut and last week when his hometown Houston Rockets signed him.
“All I’ve been doing is shooting in my driveway and playing one-on-one with my Rottweiler,” Green told ESPN after his 29-point performance off the Rockets’ bench in Thursday’s 124-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Green, who was signed to provide wing depth while Luc Mbah a Moute recovered from a dislocated right shoulder, has been sensational since his scoreless season debut, which came after he hustled to join the Rockets in Boston on Dec. 28. Green has averaged 21.0 points in the last four games, shooting 58.3 percent from the floor and a sizzling 60 percent from 3-point range.
Green was so good the last two nights — following up a 27-point outing in a road win over the Orlando Magic by putting up 29 against the Warriors, hitting 15-of-25 3-point attempts in the two games — that league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the Rockets front office has opted to guarantee his contract for the rest of the season.
“Thank goodness we got him,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, whose team will be without NBA scoring leader James Harden for at least two weeks due to a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. “He’s been really good. He’s not just good. It’s not like, ‘Oh, this is nice.’ He’s been really good.”
Rest assured that Green, giddy to be playing for the franchise he grew up rooting for, won’t take the opportunity for granted.
“It means everything,” said Green, who has the Rockets logo braided into his hair and wore an Earl Campbell Houston Oilers throwback jersey to Thursday’s game. “Just being in the city of Houston, this is everything to me. It’s something that I dreamed about.
“It just gives you that much more energy, because this is the place I dreamed of being. Don’t get me wrong — any team in the league, I’m blessed to be on. But to be the team that you dreamed about as a little kid, it’s just that much more special.”
Green, 31, has played for eight NBA franchises since the Boston Celtics selected him straight out of a Houston charter high school with the 18th overall pick in the 2005 draft. His NBA career included a one-game stint with the Rockets in February 2008 and was interrupted by a two-year sabbatical in Russia when he had no NBA interest from 2009 to 2011.
Green, who started seven playoff games for the Celtics last season, wondered at times over the last few months whether he’d get another chance to continue his career — not just in the NBA, anywhere.
“No team wanted me, man. No team wanted me. No team wanted me,” Green said, repeating himself for emphasis. “No overseas team. Not even a D-League team. So this is the only team that took a chance on me. For me, I’m just so overwhelmed and excited about the opportunity.
“You know what, man? I’ve been kind of thrown under the bus a few times in my career. So it’s not the first time I’ve seen that little area before. For me, what I did was just kept having faith in myself. Obviously, once it gets to be November and December and you still don’t get no calls, you either lay down or you fight. So I just continued to fight. God blessed me with this opportunity. Now I’ve just got to try to take advantage of it the best way that I can.”
As far as Green is concerned, that means improving his conditioning. He has impressed D’Antoni, who recognizes that Green doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a great defender, by playing with energy. But Green readily admitted that he felt winded at times while playing 34 minutes against the Warriors and wants to get in good enough shape to always exert maximum energy.
Green, who might be best known for blowing out a cupcake candle on the rim during the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest, believes fatigue cost him from finishing an alley-oop from Chris Paul on a second-quarter fast break Thursday. Green couldn’t get high enough to catch the lob, causing the ball to bounce off the glass and into the hands of a Warrior for a turnover.
“My legs fell out,” Green said. “That’s never happened to me before in my life. I’ve just got to get better.”
But it’s hard to imagine Green shooting the ball much better. He had only made seven or more 3s in a game once in his career before doing it the last two nights. Not that Green is surprised by his suddenly prolific long-range marksmanship.
“I’ve always been able to shoot,” Green said. “You can only do so much when you [don’t] get opportunity. You can’t really hit shots on the bench.”
And nobody notices when you hit shots against a dog named Zeus in the driveway. But his whole city is watching Green now.