Icy Hot: What a difference a year has made for Danny Green
MIAMI — Danny Green played less than four minutes in Game 6 of last year’s Western Conference Finals elimination game, missing a 3-pointer — his only field-goal attempt — and failing to make a single dent elsewhere in the post-game box score. He had been replaced in the starting lineup just two games prior by Manu Ginobili, one of Gregg Popovich’s go-to moves in desperate times.
The storybook season came crashing down, along with any hopes of an NBA Finals appearance.
But exactly one year later to the day, Green nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2:13 remaining in Game 1 of the NBA Finals to push the Spurs’ lead to 88-81. Miami’s final point tally: 88 points. It took a couple of Tim Duncan free throws and a Tony Parker miracle to hold off the Heat, but it was the former Tar Heel whose shot sent the home crowd into a state of shock at what was unfolding before it.
It was the 3s before that one that set the tone for the rest of the night, however. Green was calm and collected from the jump, not showing any signs of the supposed rust we all expected to see from the Spurs. His first 3-point attempt of the game dropped, something that’s generally a good omen for the player who was affectionately monikered “Icy Hot” earlier this season by our own Andrew McNeill.
What a difference a year makes. On June 6 of 2012, Green had all but disappeared. His confidence shot, along with his game. But on this June 6, on the opening night of the Finals, “Icy Hot” did the job he’s worked so hard to put himself in position to do. And a lot of that, he said, stems from his growth as a person.
“Definitely I’m a more mature, more confident player than I was. I learned a lot, I carried myself more as a professional. The business has helped me grow; the organization has helped me grow. My teammates, everybody has played a key part in who I am today,” Green said. “I’ve learned a lot, been a sponge and will continue to take criticism in stride in a good positive energy.”
And the road has been windy, and arguably a great development tool for a guy who needed to better himself as a player and person. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected the dancing Tar Heel with the 46th pick in the 2009 draft, only to waive him in training camp the following season. Then came his roller-coaster ride with the Spurs.
Less than a month after his departure from Cleveland, San Antonio brought him aboard. That stint didn’t last long — only six days — but he rejoined the team in March and was assigned to the Austin Toros before jumping over to the Reno Bighorns, where he appeared in 16 games. He even made a brief appearance in the Spurs’ opening-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011.
But then came the lockout. Green, a player trying to prove he could play in the league, signed a contract overseas with KK Union Olimpija in Slovenia, where he actually spent time as a teammate of current Spur Aron Baynes. His deal had an opt-out clause should the NBA and its players solve their contractual issues, and once it did he made his way back to the Alamo City. An end-of-the-bench guy, all he needed was a chance to break the rotation. Unfortunately, it came in the form of a Manu Ginobili broken hand. Well, unfortunate for Manu, but maybe not for Danny.
Green jumped in for Ginobili after the Argentine star suffered the injury in the fifth game of the 2012 season, and once he gained the starting nod on Feb. 8, 2012, against Philadelphia, he never looked back. Until the final two games of the Spurs’ season. But that was then, the Finals in Miami are now, and the long road is finally behind him.
“I was the last guy on the bench when I got here. Luckily, I got an opportunity when some guys got hurt. Manu got hurt, they gave me a shot,” Green said. “Every day [Player Development Coach Chad Forcier] stuck with me, worked with me on becoming a more consistent shooter and learning the system and taking game shots, which got me more comfortable and kept me confident.”
And his confidence is obvious. There’s no more hitch in his jumper, no more hesitation when a defender closes in. Green lets it fly now, and defenses must account for one of the league’s most dangerous marksmen. If he’s left alone, it’s death for the opposition. Not a bad value for a Cavalier scrap-heap casualty.
The road he traveled was a unique one. After all, the path to the NBA isn’t always marked with road flares and Rand McNally’s guidance. To each his own, and Green certainly found his. As he launches 3-pointers on basketball’s biggest stage, he appreciates the road blocks more than ever.
“There’s been a couple of places where it was kind of dreadful. Obviously when I was overseas, a couple of places that we visited, it was rough,” Green said. “When I was in Reno in the D-League, it was different. So, those lifestyles make you very much appreciate the NBA lifestyle.
“That happens somedays, you wake up and you don’t realize where you’re at. ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” he continued. “I believed that I belonged, (but) I didn’t think I would ever be starting on an NBA Finals team.”