Please, do not call A.C. Green an enforcer. That label offends his sensibilities and might prompt the Lakers’ power forward to retaliate. Beware, he might even say a prayer that you will choose your words more wisely next time.
Green is one of the most docile and devoutly religious players around, but at the same time, he is also one of the most ferocious rebounders and physically imposing big men battling under the basket.
Tuesday night, the Atlanta Hawks witnessed A.C. Mean, not the tranquil Green, and limped away 106-97 losers to the Lakers, before an Omni crowd of 16,371.
Not backing down against the burly presence of Moses Malone and Cliff Levingston, Green grabbed 13 rebounds and scored 15 points to help the Lakers bounce back strongly against an Eastern Conference bruiser after playing meekly in Sunday’s loss to Houston.
Determined not to back down, Green spent the night jousting and almost coming to blows with Malone while Magic Johnson (21 points, 15 assists), James Worthy (24 points) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (16 points) were the beneficiaries.
Green’s effort, however, did not go unnoticed among his co-workers.
Laker Coach Pat Riley called Green his designated “enforcer,” but without the surliness usually attached. Mychal Thompson, meanwhile, refers to Green as a fierce retaliator. And Orlando Woolridge favorably compared Green’s unceasing effort to that of Buck Williams.
“A.C. is not an enforcer,” Thompson said. “But he’s like the U.S. armed forces. He doesn’t always strike first, but you don’t want to get him riled up.”
Even Green has trouble defining himself. Better, he said, to just look at the effort and the statistics and let it go at that.
"(An enforcer) is somebody who verbally and physically tries to overpower you,” Green said. “They do more talking than playing, I think. I just try to turn it around and do more playing.”
So, what would Green call himself, a force-ender, perhaps?
“No, I’m just a typical--no, I’m not a typical anything--I’m just a tough player,” Green said. “I’ll let everyone else do the classifications.”
Some might call Green, 6-foot-9, 224 pounds, crazy for mixing it up with the 6-10, 255-pound Malone. But there they were, during the Lakers’ final surge, trading elbows and forearm bashes in the low post and almost squaring off.
“That’s his job,” Riley said of Green. “We wanted him to get the rebounds. Moses is 250 pounds, and A.C. a skinny 6-9, but I didn’t want Moses to get position. It was important for us to get the position.”
Something had to change in the Lakers’ approach after being outrebounded by 18 and muscled out of their offense in the Houston loss.
The rebounding of Green and others jump-started the Laker fast break, which had been missing in action in Sunday’s opening game of the trip. Consequently, the Lakers made 53.6% of their shots--68% in the second quarter--and were outrebounded, only 44-41, by taller and bulkier team. So, even though Malone had 16 points and 16 rebounds and Dominique Wilkins led all scorers with 27 points, the Lakers’ consistent effort overcame Atlanta’s individual highlights.
It also evened the Laker road record at 15-15 and pulled them three games ahead of second-place Phoenix in the Pacific Division.
“We were a team tonight,” said Johnson, who came a rebound shy of another triple-double. “It showed. A.C.'s rebounding set the tone at the beginning. It was a great lift for us. When he’s playing like that, he lifts all of us up. A.C. doesn’t woof and talk, he just plays aggressive.
“The thing about A.C. is that he does not allow himself to get boxed out. He works hard and rolls away from (opponents). He’s an enforcer in the (respect) of being an inspirational type. He gives a charge to all of us.”
Green’s atonement Tuesday night for a poor performance in Houston--eight points, nine rebounds, seven turnovers--began almost immediately.
He had seven points and six rebounds in the first quarter, as the Lakers took a lead, 30-25, that they only briefly relinquished early in the fourth quarter. A typical Green sequence came late in the quarter, when he grabbed an offensive rebound and scored inside, then grabbed Malone’s missed shot. Thirty seconds later, he took a pass from Thompson, was fouled while scoring inside and made the free throw.
And, although he did not score a point during the Lakers’ 14-2 run late in the fourth quarter that turned a 92-90 lead into a 106-92 bulge, Green had two important rebounds and once stole the ball from Malone underneath.
“A.C. took the game over by dominating the boards with pure hustle and desire,” Riley said. “He’s as an important a part of our team as anyone else. If he’s going like that all the time, it opens things up for the rest of our game.”
Said Green: “I don’t feel responsible to get every single rebound. I just try to keep myself around the ball. That usually works. I just try to play as hard as possible. That’s what I contribute.”
It is no small contribution, if you ask Riley.
“A.C. earns his salary maybe more than any other guy,” Riley said.
On a team with four seven-figure salaried players, Green doesn’t make much green. He is in the final season of a four-year contract that pays him $269,000, ranking him ninth among the 12 Laker players.
Green’s agent, Larry Fleisher, already has talked with Jerry West, the Lakers’ general manager, about a new contract at a significant increase.
But that is another story, Green said. The only numbers he was concerned about Tuesday night were the final score and his rebound total.
Both were to his liking.
“We have had trouble on the road, but tonight’s game showed that we are getting ourselves together,” he said.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, honored as part of his farewell tour at halftime, was presented with the complete jazz library of Warner Bros. records, a replica of the statue he was originally given for being named the Naismith Award winner in 1969 while at UCLA and a portrait of him from a local artist commissioned by Hawk owner Ted Turner, who took part in the ceremony. The Lakers improved their record to 6-8 on ceremony nights. . . . Abdul-Jabbar scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half. . . . Orlando Woolridge had only two points and three rebounds, but two of the rebounds came midway through the fourth quarter with the Lakers clinging to a slim lead and A.C. Green on the bench. Said Woolridge: “A.C.'s a great rebounder, and when I watch him, it inspires me. (Coach Pat Riley) has wanted me to be more aggressive in going to the offensive and defensive boards. I’m concentrating more on being in the low post. My game used to be more offensive oriented.”