- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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So amped from hitting the game-winning shot that capped the Boston Celtics' double-digit rally, Jeff Green walked right past the man who potentially saved his life while leaving the court following Boston's heart-stopping 93-92 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.Comcast SportsNet
Jeff Green shares a moment with heart surgeon Dr. Lars Svensson in Cleveland.
Green quickly backtracked to share a moment with Dr. Lars Svensson of the Cleveland Clinic, who just 14 months ago repaired an aortic aneurysm that sacked Green's entire 2011-12 season and left his NBA future uncertain.
How appropriate, then, that as the 26-year-old Green starts to show signs of blossoming to his full potential, he delivered a buzzer-beating layup that helped Boston overcome as much as a 14-point deficit and snap a five-game losing streak, all in front of the man who gave him the chance to resume his basketball career.
"I'm just blessed and thankful, man, to have [Dr. Svensson]," Green told reporters in Cleveland. "Just thankful that he was here to see it."
Later, Green added, "That was for him, that was for Dr. Svensson."
Green said he knew Dr. Svensson was in attendance, just as he had been for Boston's first visit to Cleveland in January. But even Green seemed touched by the moment, producing the winner just four miles from where he underwent a life-altering procedure.
Green scored 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds and 5 assists over 41:26. Playing some of his most inspired ball this season in spot starts for Kevin Garnett, Green again came up big with a chance to shine in Cleveland.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters after the game that Green actually asked for the ball on the final play. Boston was lucky to even have the opportunity to talk it over. The Celtics were out of timeouts but caught a break when referees huddled to check the time remaining after the Cavaliers knocked the ball out of bounds as Paul Pierce dribbled with the first chance for Boston's final shot.
Inbounding from the sideline, Green came off a brilliant Jason Terry pick, got the ball at the top of the arc and fearlessly drove the right side of the lane through traffic, kissing the ball off the glass as the buzzer sounded. The typically stoic Green exulted under the basket as his teammates celebrated around him.
It was the second game winner this month for Green, who also produced a winning layup in Indiana. Since that triumph over the Pacers, Green has averaged 16.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game over his last 12 contests (including six starts). Yes, he's been up-and-down at times -- pouring in 43 points against the Heat one night, then disappearing after a fast start in New Orleans the next time out -- but it's been far more up than down with Green.
And that showed on Wednesday as he again came through in another clutch situation.
"It’s big, the play in Indiana is what got him really going, when he finished with a layup, and that was a hard layup in Indiana," Rivers said. "And he wanted the ball [on Wednesday], he asked for it. When you’re in a timeout and guys are staring at you, they are telling you they want the ball. Most guys look down because they don’t want the ball. But he clearly wanted the ball, I sensed that, and I think everyone sensed it."
Green is vital to Boston's success in the postseason. Jason Terry often dubs him the X factor because when he's playing to his potential, his athleticism and versatility make the Celtics a decidedly different team. As this recent stumble has shown, the Celtics desperately need a healthy Kevin Garnett on the floor to have any chance at all of being a postseason contender, but having Green firing on all cylinders could decide just how far Boston treks.
It's impossible to understate how important Green's layup was Wednesday night. The Celtics were in a complete tailspin without Garnett (and Courtney Lee), but were about to endure their sixth straight loss to a Cleveland team playing without three of its top players (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao). Even on the second night of a back-to-back, this was a game Boston absolutely had to have, yet the Celtics kicked away a 12-point first-half lead.
Then Green rescued the Celtics with his late heroics, in a city where Dr. Svensson rescued his career and maybe his life.
"I’m lucky to be back on the court and I owe it all to him," said Green.
11dKevin Pelton and Chad Ford