Danny Green Steps Up in NBA Finals Debut
One hour before tip-off, it hit Danny Green. He was about to play in the NBA Finals, in the biggest basketball game of his life. He had repeatedly said that this was just another game, but once he walked onto the court to go through his pregame routine, he realized that wasn’t the case.
“This is my first time being in it,” Green said. “Obviously, walking on the court, there are a lot more people. It’s a little bit different. Once those lights come on, it starts to hit people. It hit [me], how big this is and how much of an opportunity this is and how serious everyone takes this.”
The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most experienced teams in the league. They are led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and while it’s true that these veterans each have at least three rings apiece, that doesn’t mean that the Spurs have a veteran at every position. San Antonio will rely on youngsters like the 25-year-old Green and the 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard during this series, and both players are making their NBA Finals debut.
Leading up to the series against the Miami HEAT, the veterans didn’t sit down the young players to give them advice. There was no motivational speech or private talk to prepare them for this stage. That’s because Duncan, Parker and Ginobili expect every player on the team, even the young contributors, to be ready for this type of situation and environment. After all, this exact same Spurs team had a deep postseason run last year, when they were within two wins of playing in the Finals, but ultimately lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Last year, we made it to the Western Conference Finals so they expect that we know what kind of stage this is,” Green said. “They don’t want to put any extra pressure on us. They just want us to play basketball, just like Pop does, and not think of it as big as you guys [the media] make it seem.”
Entering Game 1, there was some doubt about whether Green was ready for the big moment. He hadn’t played well during that Western Conference Finals series against the Thunder, and it was possible that he could have a similar letdown performance during the Finals, especially if he got nervous.
However, any nerves that he had pregame didn’t affect his production because he was one of the Spurs’ key players on Thursday, especially in the first half. Green contributed 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field as well as five rebounds, one steal and one block. All of Green’s points came from three-point range, which isn’t a surprise. During the playoffs, he has been San Antonio’s best long-range shooter, leading the team in shooting percentage from every area beyond the arc. Green was one of several Spurs who stepped up and played well, allowing San Antonio to steal home court advantage from Miami.
“It’s not easy to win on the road,” Green said. “We had a disadvantage because they had home court advantage so we had to win on the road at least once. We got one done and we’ll try to steal another one. I’m very confident in my team. We know that if we keep playing the basketball that we’ve been playing all year that we have a very good chance of winning games. We have to take it game by game, play good defense, move the ball offensively and give ourselves a chance.”
One of the biggest reasons that young players like Green have been able to have so much success with the Spurs is the continuity in San Antonio. Rather than changing coaches or teammates every year, the Spurs brought back the same core group as they had last season. Green acknowledged how rare this is in the NBA and how it helps the Spurs beat teams since they have the chemistry advantage over just about every opponent.
“We’ve been together for two years so that helps a lot,” Green said. “It’s not often that you see that. Pop stresses it so much, that it’s not often that you have an opportunity where you have a group like this so we have to take advantage of it. You never know if the team is going to break up, if guys are going to go. In the NBA, you don’t see teams come back with the same exact team. Luckily for us, we were able to do so and continue to stay healthy and win games. We don’t know how much longer we have with this group so we’ll take advantage of it now. … Everybody is excited. You don’t get many chances like this. It happens once in a lifetime. We don’t know if we’ll have this group again so we have to take advantage of it and have as much fun with it as possible.”
“We have a good group that plays together,” Green added. “We don’t have many superstars, but Pop has done a great job of encouraging guys and making guys superstars by maximizing their potential and their abilities within the system. It just goes to show you that you don’t need superstars to win basketball games.”
While last year’s loss in the Western Conference Finals was difficult for the Spurs, it was a learning experience for the young players like Green and Leonard.
“Last year, being in the Western Conference Finals helped us a great deal,” Green said. “It helped us grow, especially the younger players. This year, hopefully we can learn and experience, but also win at the same time. Every loss is an experience, but winning experience helps too and we’re hoping that it goes in our favor.”
Green realizes that legacies are forged during the NBA Finals and that this is something that most players don’t get to experience, much less a 24-year-old who still has plenty of years ahead of him.
“I feel like this is a very hard thing to do,” Green said. “Not many people experience it coming through the league. A lot of guys last 15 years in the league and never get the chance to see the Finals. I know how big of a deal this is and what kind of opportunity we have.”
Green showed that he’s ready to make the most of that opportunity in Game 1, and it should only get easier from here since the nerves will be gone and he’ll get used to playing on basketball’s biggest stage.
Finals News and Notes
• In Game, 1 Shane Battier was 0-of-3 from the field, with all of his misses coming from behind the three-point line. During this postseason, he is shooting 21.7 percent from the field. When asked about his shooting percentage after the game, Battier laughed and said, “Honestly, I stopped worrying about my percentages a long time ago. I could make the rest of my shots for the rest of the playoffs and my percentages would still be pretty low. If you have shots, you shoot them. Then, you deal with the results.”
• Kawhi Leonard was the unsung hero for the Spurs in Game 1. While he only had 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field, he also grabbed 10 rebounds and did a terrific job on the defensive end. Leonard was the main reason that the Spurs were able to contain LeBron James in Game 1, holding him to just 18 points and forcing him to be a facilitator. James had just six points on 2-of-8 shooting when Leonard was guarding him, versus 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting against all other Spurs. Leonard was able to stifle James, specifically in the second half when Leonard guarding James on six of his seven attempts. “Kawhi did a great job of guarding him,” Danny Green said of James. “We did a great job of crowding the paint and making him make plays for other people.”
• LeBron James finished with a triple-double, recording 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in the loss. That’s James’ third-career Finals triple-double, which is the second-most of all-time behind only Magic Johnson, who had eight in his career.
• Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is 20-3 all-time in best-of-seven playoff series when his team wins Game 1, according to ESPN Stats and Info. That’s a .870 series win percentage, which ranks only behind Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach among head coaches with a minimum of 15 series coached.
• Expect a strong bounce-back performance from Miami in Game 2. The HEAT have won 10 consecutive games following a loss and the last time they had back-to-back losses was on January 8-10. Miami has also had amazing success following Game 1 losses in the Big Three era. This is the fourth time that this group has lost a Game 1 and in each of the previous three instances, Miami has went on to sweep the next four games.