BOSTON: Jeff Green may have been waiting for this moment all his life.
The 31-year-old Cavaliers forward is making his sixth appearance in the playoffs. But the furthest his team has advanced was the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, when the Boston Celtics lost to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in seven games.
Green was sidelined that season with a heart condition.
Green was to start Sunday night in place of the injured Kevin Love as the Cavs took on the Celtics in Game 7 of the East finals at TD Garden. At stake was a trip to the NBA Finals, which open Thursday at the site of the West champion.
At shootaround Sunday morning, Green was calm, as is his norm, his voice lacking any tinge of excitement.
“It’s a lot. It’s a chance to go to the Finals. I’m prepared. So, it will be fun,” Green said.
It was his second start for the Cavs this postseason. His first came in Game 1 of the first round against the Pacers, when he went scoreless and posted a plus/minus of -16 in an 18-point home loss.
Green was pressed into service when Love suffered a concussion when he bumped heads with Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum with 6:58 left in the first quarter of the Cavs’ Game 6 victory at Quicken Loans Arena. Love was placed in the league’s protocol Saturday, but the five-time All-Star traveled with the Cavs to Boston.
“I wish he was playing,” Green said. “It sucks that it had to happen the way it happened. It’s a tough loss, but it’s the next man up. Everybody has to be prepared to play.”
Green totaled 14 points, three rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two turnovers in 32 minutes Friday after Love departed. His plus/minus was +10.
In the playoffs, Green is averaging 7.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocked shots in 22.6 minutes.
In the crucial second quarter of Game 6, when the Cavs outscored the Celtics 34-18, Green played well off James. To start the quarter, Green scored on an alley oop dunk off a James assist, then added a cutting dunk off a pass from James less than two minutes later as Green converted an and-one. Green later returned the favor, finding James for a 3-pointer.
“Honestly it just comes down to being smart, playing the game and trying to find ways to make each other better. And he does that well for me,” Green said of James.
Asked why the two clicked, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said: “You have two guys of similar size who can switch a lot of different things, both can handle the basketball, both can pass the ball. Jeff can also run the floor, so when Bron gets the outlet, Jeff’s running, having the big guys try to chase him and guard him, he can get easy baskets. They have been playing well together, so we’ve got to continue that.”
The Cavs were to surely miss Love, their second-leading scorer (13.9) in the playoffs and leading rebounder (10.0). Their last time in TD Garden, they scored 83 points in a Game 5 loss Wednesday despite holding the Celtics to 37 percent shooting.
Green does change the Cavs defensively, giving them the chance to switch everything.
Asked what Green did best in Game 6, Lue said: “I think he attacked the small guys, the switches, and took his time, did a good job attacking, rebounded the ball well. I just think defensively being able to switch and guard multiple positions, that’s huge for us. He was able to switch a lot more, we were able to do a lot of different stuff defensively and he came through for us.”
Before the game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted the effect Green has on the Cavs’ defense.
“It gives them another long, versatile athlete on the defensive end of the floor,” Stevens said. “Without Kevin, they switch a lot more. They do what we call scram a lot more, where they switch and then kick a small out of the post. Their defense is much more, I guess, unpredictable in a lot of ways, and that is — I thought that they did a good job of that, especially when Kevin initially went out.”
Stevens pointed out that Green also played well in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss in Boston, scoring eight points (on 3-of-4 field goals) with five rebounds. Green played all 82 games for the Celtics in 2013-14, Stevens’ first season as coach, and averaged 16.9 points.
“Jeff played great offense two straight games. We know here he was one of our best players on that first team that I talked about, and he’s a guy that can score, and he’s a guy that can score on the block or facing the goal. He’s a good player.”
Lue was an assistant coach in Boston under Doc Rivers and was excited when the Cavs signed Green as a free agent in July. But Lue never dreamed Green would be starting Game 7 of the conference finals.
“Jeff’s been big for us on and off all season. Now Eastern Conference finals Game 7 he’ll be starting,” Lue said. “He’s excited for the opportunity as well as everyone else is. So let’s do it.”
On Friday, James banged his right leg in a fourth-quarter collision with Larry Nance Jr. James said afterward it left him with pain in the leg and the ankle.
Asked how the leg felt Sunday morning, James said, “It’s been better, but I’ll be ready tonight.”
James wouldn’t say whether the ankle or the leg was more of an issue.
“Uh, the ankle is a part of the leg, so it’s the full leg,” he said.
Lue said he watched the Cavs’ impressive 121-99 victory over the Celtics in TD Garden on Feb. 11 a couple times because the Cavs were also without Love, sidelined with a fractured left hand. It was the first game after the trade deadline, when the Cavs acquired four new players.
“It was just different, the guys were excited, didn’t really know what the expectations were,” Lue said. “There wasn’t a lot of thinking, we only had three plays in, and they just kind of played free. It’s different now, so we’ll see.”
That day, the Cavs outscored the Celtics 90-67 after the first quarter and shot 54 percent from the field. James scored 24 points with eight rebounds and 10 assists and new Cav Jordan Clarkson came off the bench for 17 points. Green scored 10 points with three rebounds in 17 minutes.
Game No. 100
Game 7 was James’ 100th game, which ties for the most he’s played in a season, the previous coming in 2011. At age 33, James played in all 82 games for the first time in his career.
Arguably it has been his best performance in his 15 seasons, but James wasn’t ready to reflect.
“I don’t know. It is what it is. Today is really the only thing I can think about,” he said. “I haven’t thought about the full year yet, in its entirety. I feel like anybody else would feel playing 100 games in a season.
“For me personally, just always trying to have my body and my mind as sharp as possible, be in the best condition throughout the season where I’m available for my teammates every night. This year I’ve been available for my teammates and just try to be there for them throughout the regular season and the postseason.”
James is 5-2 in Game 7s in his career and seemed at ease with the magnitude of the moment.
“I’m at ease with the game of basketball, period, no matter the situation,” he said.
Off to Chipotle
After Game 6, point guard George Hill revealed he had stuck to his routine and eaten his pregame meal at Chipotle for the third time in the series.
He is obviously superstitious after the Cavs went 3-0 at home when he made the trip. He vowed to find a franchise in Boston so he could order his favorite, regular tacos with barbacoa and guacamole.
On Saturday afternoon, the restaurant chain’s official twitter, @ChipotleTweets, sent Hill a message.
“Hey @George_Hill3, we’ve got whatever it takes for Game 7. Bring yourself and the @cavs to any Boston location on Sunday, and it’s on us,” it said.
Hill said at shootaround he had found a Chipotle on Google, but was unaware of the offer of free food.
Told what Chipotle tweeted, he said, “I don’t ever get on Twitter.
“That’s awesome. I gotta pick up Chipotle for everybody then. Rice bowls for everybody.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
Cavaliers notebook: Jeff Green ready for second playoff start; George Hill off to Chipotle
BOSTON: Jeff Green may have been waiting for this moment all his life.