Danny Green no longer just a complementary piece
Danny Green couldn’t withstand the pressure-test applied to him during last year’s Western Conference Finals, leaking under the stress while going only 8-for-31 from the floor for 21 points in the entire series. But in Monday night’s tension-packed, seemingly impossible comeback scenario, Green was deadly. For at least one night, the return on the Spurs’ offseason investment was even better than expected.
And there’s a reason why the former Tar Heel received a contract from San Antonio over the summer. The Spurs trusted him. They trusted his skill set, work ethic and potential enough to put a few longer-term dollar-signs next to his name, and by the end of the silver and black’s 129-127 double-overtime thriller over Golden State on Monday, Green had earned his paycheck for the night.
In Game 1 his eight field goals matched his total in the six games played against the Thunder during last season’s playoffs as he went for a postseason career-high 22 points against the Warriors. And when Stephen Curry was eclipsing the sun in the third quarter, it was Green whose nine points and three 3-pointers in the period led the way for a team clinging to whatever it could grab just to survive the onslaught.
But it was the game-tying 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in regulation that gave the Spurs a little extra time to overcome the young Warriors and take a 1-0 series lead in the conference semifinals.
As improbable as last night’s victory was, the fact that it was Green who kept the Spurs hanging around before Tony Parker found his rhythm and as Tim Duncan struggled with illness is a development the team had hoped to see after last season’s playoff collapse. It wasn’t that San Antonio didn’t have the right pieces to beat the Thunder in 2012, it was that the parts they had either underachieved or hadn’t yet matured as the offensive engine sputtered well below its peak-performance level. And that all started with Green and one of the most forgettable stretches of basketball in his career.
The Spurs have always wanted their role players to just stay disciplined and consistent. It was their job to complement the Big 3 by converting open shots and playing defense, and any big plays would end up as icing on the cake. But Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined to miss 39 shots in Game 1, so San Antonio needed a little more than a supplemental contribution. It needed someone who could hit the shots the stars couldn’t.
“We needed it, because we were low on energy. Our rhythm was a little out of sync, our rotations weren’t what they should’ve been,” Green said. “Timmy was a little sick, Tony wasn’t his normal Tony self in the first half … and we needed big plays from anywhere.
“Luckily, I was able to knock down a couple of shots.”
You could say that. Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but Green’s 78.6 true-shooting percentage on 14 shots was through the roof — second only to Matt Bonner’s hilarious 125 true-shooting percentage — and his 1.38 points per possession of use was a team high.
(Side note: Statistics can be so strange sometimes. Despite the great shooting numbers, Green was a -17 overall while he was on the floor last night. Conversely, Manu — he of the 5-for-20 shooting variety — was a team-best +17 during his minutes. Ginobili did dish out 11 assists and obviously hit a huge shot, but his shooting numbers as a whole were abysmal and the Spurs would never have won without Danny’s shot-making. But I digress…)
In this Spurs system, with all the motion and all the screening and all that talent that surrounds the roster, Green will continue to get open looks. And San Antonio is already more actively moving him around. He spotted up more than 40 percent of the time during the half-court situations in which he was used over the course of the regular season, all while working off of screens on just 10 percent of such plays. But things change when you’re up against this Warriors backcourt.
Golden State elects to run the length of Klay Thompson at Parker from the start, defensively, something that has historically bothered the Spurs’ point guard. This means Green is likely be defended by the smaller Curry. But despite not being a high-usage player and a guy who will be running many pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler, it’s important for Danny to at least make Steph work. If he hangs out and spots up around the perimeter, he’s doing Curry a favor by letting him rest on the defensive end.
So San Antonio has made a conscious effort to get its marksman loose, especially when he’s in his zone. He bounced off of down-screens, flared off picks to the wings and faded away from them when his defender overcommitted, and most of the time it led to an open look. Half of Green’s 3-point makes came off some sort of screen, which shows how the Spurs are actively involving a guy who’s been a pretty decent barometer for success.
When Green hits at least two 3-pointers in a game at a clip equal to or better than 40 percent, San Antonio is 38-6 this season. On the other hand, when the Spurs’ shooting guard connects on worse than 40 percent from the arc, his team is just 17-17 overall. And here, in the Western Conference second round against a team full of flamethrowers, San Antonio hopes his best career playoff game was a sign of things to come. Whether it’s in this series or another, it’s likely the Spurs will need a similar performance again in the near future.
Green isn’t just a complementary piece anymore. He’s a necessity, and it’s never been as obvious as it was last night.
Stats courtesy of mySynergySports.com and NBA.com/stats.