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BOSTON (CBS) – For Jeff Green, Wednesday night’s game-winning layup against the Cleveland Cavaliers was much more than a made basket.
It was just over a year ago that Green was waking up in a Cleveland hospital after undergoing heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. The surgery sidelined him for the entire 2011-12 season and put Green’s career in jeopardy.
But the 26-year-old has returned to play a major role for the Boston Celtics this season, and Wednesday night was just the latest example. Green came through with his second game-winning basket of the month; a layup as time expired to cap off a 21-6 run and give the Celtics a 93-92 win.
But it’s who was in the stands that had special meaning to Green. Sitting among the Cleveland fans was Dr. Lars Svensson, the man who performed Green’s surgery last year. After his game-winner, Green made sure to take time and share a moment with Svensson, thanking the surgeon for helping him get through one of the toughest ordeals of his life.
“I’m lucky to be back on the court and I owe it all to him,” Green said after the win.
“That was for him, that was for Dr. Svensson,” he said of his buzzer beater. ”Just thankful that he was here to see it.”
Wednesday was just the latest example of Green growing into his role with Boston. He scored 21 points off 7-for-18 shooting, giving the Celtics 41 quality minutes and once again making the most of starting in place of the injured Kevin Garnett.
But the start of the game has nothing to do with Green’s maturity; it’s what he did at the end that matters most. With the Celtics down a point with just over two seconds left, Green wanted the ball with the game on the line — a role normally reserved for captain Paul Pierce.
“Jeff wanted the ball,” C’s head coach Doc Rivers said. “He asked for it by the way he was looking at me in the huddle. He clearly wanted the basketball. I sensed that and everybody sensed that.”
So, Rivers drew up a play for Green and watched his team execute it to near perfection. Green came off a pick at the top of the arc, put his head down and drove through the lane. He banked in his layup as the buzzer went off, and the Celtics’ walked away with a win they had no business getting.
The layup snapped a five-game skid for Boston, and will just add more confidence to Green as the regular season winds down. He’s averaging 16.2 points per game in April, a month that’s seen him play his most aggressive basketball in the Celtics uniform.
But without Dr. Svennson, Green may have never gotten these chances to shine. While he may be aggravatingly inconsistent at times on the court, Wednesday night provided us with a nice reminder of what Green battled off of it just over a year ago.