Somebody other than LeBron James had to show up for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nobody knew quite who it was going to be, but James wasn’t going to be able to lead his team to the NBA Finals without at least one other guy hitting some key shots and playing solid defense. Jeff Green was that player for Cleveland in Game 7, the unsung hero who did everything he needed to do: hit enough threes, scored in transition, and held up on multiple matchups defensively.
Whether it was the nerves of Game 7 or just an inexplicably bad performance from both teams, there wasn’t a soul in the greater Boston area who would hit a three-pointer on Sunday night. The teams combined for 21.6 percent shooting from the great beyond and nobody’s numbers were particularly pretty from out there. Green finished just 2-for-9 from three and 2-for-6 in the second half, but it was his work inside the arc that was more important; he didn’t miss on any of his five two-point attempts and created all five buckets himself, which gave James some much-needed in-game rest.
Running in transition was a bigger part of the Cleveland offense in the regular season than the playoffs, but when they were sputtering in the halfcourt and James was having to shoulder all of the creation responsibilities just to keep them within shouting distance of the Celtics, Green’s handful of runout layups gave them the boost they needed—any positive contributions James’ teammates can make without him having to create an opportunity for them is a massive win for the Cavaliers, especially in a game that saw James play all 48 minutes.
Green’s impact on the defensive end was a bit more of a mixed bag, but he was able to defend his individual matchup well enough across a variety of different players, from nine possessions against Marcus Smart to 16 on Aron Baynes. Just like on offense, Green’s ability to essentially guard any player on the floor took a large burden off of James’ shoulders and allowed him to get his in-game rest on the defensive end as well (though the Celtics were able to get loose for some offensive rebounds and backdoor cuts when James wasn’t fully engaged on that side of the ball). Green defended all seven Celtics throughout the game and was only overmatched by Jayson Tatum, who hit three of his five shots against Green en route to seven points on 11 possessions.
His defensive acumen has always been mostly reserved for individual play—he’s strong in the post against bigger matchups and has quick enough feet to stay with guards on the perimeter—but his team defense is still lacking. Boston was mostly unable to make him pay for it, but Green got caught ball-watching, helping one pass away, or making the wrong rotation a few times in Game 7, a worrisome trend that will hurt them against Golden State or Houston in the next series.
No one player can win a Game 7 on his own, even if that player is LeBron James. He needed somebody else to step up on both ends to take key shots and Green was able to deliver just well enough to push the Cavaliers into their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. A mostly minus player for his NBA career, Green was the brightest positive of Cleveland’s role players and will get his first shot at the NBA Finals.