CHICAGO - Each time Jeff Green stands in front of a mirror, he sees a jagged, nine-inch scar that runs from the base of his neck to the top of his abdomen. It's a vivid reminder of the open heart surgery that saved his life in January 2012.
And this is why, Green told USA Today, "Each day I give it my all, whether good or bad. I live with the results. But I'm enjoying it, every single moment of this. I mean, I don't take everything for granted. Nothing."
So when his No. 32 was called upon to replace the concussed Kevin Love in Cleveland's starting lineup for Sunday's (Monday, Manila time) Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston, Green embraced the challenge with the same enthusiasm he appreciates his new lease on life.
Except the doubters, the haters, and those who don't believe in Santa, we all knew that LeBron James lives for these Game Seven moments.
We also knew that despite the grandeur of his 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, No.23 couldn't do it alone. Not against these Celtics, who are 17-time NBA champs with a 23-8 record in Game 7s, including 20-4 in their home building.
It didn't matter to Green, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound former Celtic. A 10-year veteran, the 32-year old was calm as the Pacific ocean and lifted some of James' burden by producing 19 points and eight rebounds. He shot 7-of-14 from field and his dagger 3 pushed Cleveland ahead for good, 74-72 with 5:44 to go.
Green's feat was a result of preparation marrying opportunity. It's one thing to get the call, but it's quite another to respond appropriately when that call comes. As told by a biblical parable, being prepared isn't the same as being ready. Green was both.
Green's star turn didn't just come out of thin air. It was a product of a life's work. He led Northwestern High School in Maryland to a state title in 2004. A Hoya like Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson, Green starred at Georgetown University and was taken fifth overall in the 2007 NBA draft.
He had the tools. The pedigree. The heart. A big, freaking heart.
Because of Green, Boston turned gray and the famed parquet floors will forever be stained with tears of disappointment.
"We just had one of those nights," a crestfallen Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told The Boston Globe. "The pain is part of the path."
Early in these playoffs, when they plowed through Milwaukee and Philadelphia, the Celtics were dubbed as fearless, too young to even care what pressure means. On Sunday night, against the subliminal James, the Celtics weren't old enough to handle the pressure.
Jaylen Brown, 21, missed 13 of 18 shots. Terry Rozier, 24, missed 12 of 14 shots. Both combined for only 3-of-22 from 3-point range. With the world watching, Brown turned neophyte green while "Scary Terry" morphed into "Messy Terry."
With 261 regular season and 43 playoffs games under his belt, Marcus Smart, 24, was supposed to be wiser, tougher. But he, too, wilted and soiled the TD Garden with a 1-for-10 effort that included a fruitless 0-for-4 from long distance.
Jayson Tatum, 20, was the outlier, finishing with 24 points and seven rebounds. But after drilling a 27-foot 3 that handed the Celtics a 72-71 bubble with 6:04 left, Tatum disappeared and did not attempt another field goal. He fouled out with 40.5 seconds to go and the Cavs up 10.
Al Horford, Boston's elder statesman who makes a whopping $27.7 million this season, acquitted himself well with 17 points, four rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes of action. But his 31-year old wisdom and the brawn of his 245-pound body couldn't stop Boston from falling apart when things got tighter and tighter.
After scoring 26 points in the first quarter and leading by a dozen, 35-23, in the second, the Celtics managed just 13 in the third. They finished 29 of 85 from the field (34.1 percent), 7-of-39 from 3-point range (17.9 percent) and 14-of-19 from the free throw line (73.7 percent).
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, converted 30 of 66 shots (45.5 percent) and 9-of-35 from 3-land (25.7 percent) They were outrebounded 42-41. beaten in the assists category, 18-15, and turned the ball over seven times more.
But in a thriller pelted with six ties and nine lead changes, Cleveland won the battle of wills.
J.R. Smith had 12 points and three 3s. Tristan Thompson had 10 points and nine boards. George Hill registered only six points and two assists but his reverse layup with 1:16 remaining shoved the Cavs ahead for good, 81-74.
In a season fraught with upheaval, suffering, and doubt, LeBron James is back to the NBA Finals. For the eighth straight time.
The journey took 100 games and LeBron, now 33, is demonstrably tired. But he did arrive at the intended destination, which is all that matters.
"It's all part of plan," he said in the refuge of the Cavs locker room where his knees were iced after a 48-minute work of art.
Long live the King.