Danny Green rose for his 33rd 3-point attempt of the 2013 NBA Finals, and for the 23rd time, the ball splashed through the net.
On cue, the Heat called timeout, creating a scene similar baseball’s game stoppages to honor broken records.
Green – who broke the record for 3-pointers in an NBA Finals and would push the the mark to 25 (on 38 attempts) by the end of the Spurs’ 114-104 Game 5 victory – clapped his hands and screamed, and then he headed to the bench for pats on the back from teammates and coaches.
Ray Allen, who saw his record of 22 3-pointers in the 2008 Finals broken, sat on the Miami bench and made no attempts to hide the disgust pouring over his face.
Green had never made this many 3-pointers in a five-game stretch, though he’d played just 106 games entering the Finals, because he was too busy getting cut by the Cavaliers, Spurs and Spurs again. Yet, this passionate mid-game celebration was all about him.
This is the awesomeness of Danny Green, the hottest player on the biggest stage.
But what happened in the moments preceding his record-breaking trey show the full story of Danny Green, the reason we can witness his awesomeness.
Dwyane Wade pushed the ball upcourt, and Green caught him from behind. With Green hounding Wade, Manu Ginobili poked the ball loose, getting credit for the steal when Green dove to the floor to corral the ball. Green passed from his back to Ginobli, and the Spurs surged the other direction.
Green momentarily stumbled over Wade as he tried to get up, but Green still reached his feet first. Again, Green raced down the floor quicker and was wide open as the trailer, Wade still languishing in the distance, on the record-breaking triple.
That is why Green, whom Gregg Popovich cut for a failure to bring consistent effort, is playing for the Spurs. It’s also why Green is in the driver’s seat to become the most unlikely NBA Finals MVP ever.
Green found a team that embraces his biggest strength, 3-point shooting. Not long ago, progressive teams tolerated 3-point shots. Popovich seeks 3-pointers and their and the 50 percent more points they produce than other makes.
But Popovich also wouldn’t tolerate Green’s effort lapses, and Green didn’t even get even a guaranteed roster spot until he solved those issues. With the help of his former North Carolina coach, Roy Williams, Green did that.
Now, Green leads the Spurs, who hold a 3-2 series advantage, in scoring by nine points. Because the Spurs’ traditionally recognized stars – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – have been up and down, there’s no clear-cut choice for Finals MVP if San Antonio hangs on. But 28 of the last 30 Finals MVPs led the winning team in scoring,* so Green is certainly on track to get consideration from the voters who prefer simple measures.
*Chauncey Billups (2004) and Larry Bird (1986) being the exceptions.
The voters who take a deeper examination will see Green’s hustle plays and helpful defense on LeBron James, which might be enough of a complement to Green’s 3-point shooting and earn him the award if Duncan, Parker or Ginobili doesn’t overtake him the rest of the series.
Of course, the Heat can still win, or perhaps, voters could reward the player who’s had the best series so far – LeBron – even though a player on the losing team hasn’t wont Finals MVP since Jerry West took the inaugural award in 1969.
At minimum, Green is planted firmly in the conversation. If the Finals ended today, he would get my hypothetical vote ahead of any Spur (though I would vote for LeBron).
Only great teams reach the NBA Finals, and greats teams are usually led by great players. Finals MVPs are typically the best of the best, perhaps creating an even better list of the game’s best than regular-season MVPs. All but three* of 45 Finals MVP awards have gone to Hall of Famers (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Dennis Johnson, Wes Unseld, Bill Walton, Jo Jo White, Rick Barry, John Havlicek, Willis Reed, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West) or sure-fire future Hall of Famers (LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal).
*Chauncey Billups, Cedric Maxwell and Jo Jo White being the exceptions.
Green is not a Hall of Famer or a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, but he’s also not just the novelty who made 5-of-5 3-pointers in Game 2. He airballed a 3-pointer early in Game 5, shook it off and finished 6-for-10 from beyond the arc, still lowering his Finals 3-point percentage.
He’s playing with supreme confidence and forcing the basketball world to take notice.
Undoubtedly, part of Green’s stirring Finals is a run of good fortune, a hot streak coming at the most opportune time. Green could turn into a pumpkin at any moment.
But even if that happens and his 3-point shooting goes cold, you can still count on Green beating the Heat for loose balls and beating them downcourt.
Green’s 3-point shooting is why you’re noticing him, but his hustle is why he’s here.
Both explain why he’s suddenly the front-runner for Finals MVP.