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Jeff Green’s improbable journey to the NBA Finals

Six years ago, Jeff Green didn’t know if he would make it back onto the court. Now, he’s heading to his first NBA Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There was plenty of dancing, singing and taking pictures happening during the Cavaliers’ locker room celebration following their Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

There was also a stunned Jeff Green, soaking in the moment.

This will be the first NBA Finals for the 31-year-old, and it’s only fitting that he had a superb Game 7 to help the Cavs make their fourth straight appearance. He started in the place of an injured Kevin Love, and was second on the team in scoring with 19 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. The 19 points were a high in this year’s playoffs.

Putting on that type of performance at TD Garden is in a way, fitting for Green. The Celtics drafted him back in 2007, but he was traded to Seattle for Ray Allen. He found his way back to Boston in 2011, but later missed the entire 2011-12 season when doctors discovered he had a heart condition. He underwent surgery at the Cleveland Clinic before making his return to the court the following year.

Back then, Green said that getting to play in an NBA Finals wasn’t even a priority for him— it was just getting back to playing in general.

“I wasn’t concerned with the Finals at that point,” he said. “My concern was health and getting back on the floor. After I got back on the floor, of course that’s the main goal is to be able to compete in The Finals and win a championship. And I’m here, and I’ve battled. I’ve worked my [butt] off each day since January 9, 2012, to get back on this court and now compete for a championship.

“I mean, I almost lost it all, and now to sit here in front of you guys, to talk about the NBA Finals and playing in it, I mean, I’ve been truly blessed to be able to step foot on this court, to play this game. Each day I give it my all, whether good or bad. I live with the results.”

Green joined the Cavs this summer when his former assistant coach Tyronn Lue recruited him. Green said that when he and Lue talked, a trip to the Finals was an obvious selling point.

He started in 13 regular season games for the Cavs this season, mainly working as a reserve as the team intended. He averaged 10.8 points and 3.2 rebounds a game, and was even named a playoff starter for the Cavs’ first game against Indiana in the first round. After Cleveland got blown out, however, Green was moved to the bench until Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

“You know, Jeff, man, I’m so happy for him,” Lue said. “Very talented player. Very versatile. And just, you know, not really getting a great opportunity in all the places he’s been, and just to see him be on this stage and starting in a Game 7, Eastern Conference Finals and playing 42 minutes, having 19 points, eight rebounds is just huge, and I’m so happy for Jeff.”

LeBron James seconded Lue’s sentiments.

“His number was called, and he just answered the call,” James said. “It’s amazing. Listen, at the end of the day, what he does on the basketball floor is extra credit. This guy had open-heart surgery a few years ago. The game was basically taken away from him, and they said it’s possible you’ll never play the game of basketball again.

“The fact that he can put on a uniform every day and do the things that he does out on the floor— I don’t care if he makes a shot. To make big plays like he made tonight— for him personally, it’s the cherry on top because the game was taken away from him.”

Green has at times, arguably, been underappreciated this year for the versatility he has given Cleveland. And maybe that’s why it is so fitting that it was Green answered the call, against his former team, as the Cavs faced just their latest setback this season.

And no matter what awaits the Cavs in a best of seven series with the Golden State Warriors, Green will be ready to answer that call again.

“I am enjoying it, every single moment of this. I mean, I don’t take nothing for granted. Nothing.”