In 2009, when Danny Green was a scrub for the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James was the team’s star, I visited the Cavaliers’ locker room to interview Green.
Green has rarely lacked confidence – even then, when he was a barely-used Cavalier. Mid-interview, Green saw LeBron walk over to the next locker and started telling him about the powerful dunks Green said he had put down earlier in the day.
“I looked like a young you out there,” Green said.
LeBron guffawed. He was the king of Cleveland at the time. Green had won a national championship at North Carolina earlier that year, but six months later he was a rookie who was so far down the totem pole in Cleveland that he was going to get cut before he ever began his second season there.
Now they are both on different teams, and both LeBron and Green have a chance to become MVP of these NBA Finals.
LeBron’s Miami team trails Green’s San Antonio squad, 3-2, with Game 6 on Tuesday night in Miami and Game 7 (if necessary) Thursday in Miami. Green has rocketed into the forefront of these Finals by making an astounding 25 3-pointers through five games, shooting so well it seems almost impossible that he once was demoted to the NBA D-League, took a detour through Slovenia to play basketball and was cut by the very same Spurs – twice!
There are two other far more traditional MVP candidates for these Finals – Miami’s Dwyane Wade and San Antonio’s Tony Parker. If the Spurs win, I’d actually vote for Parker, whose quickness is otherworldly.
Still Green as a legitimate MVP candidate? It’s an amazing thing. But setting the NBA Finals record for 3-pointers (Green is 25-for-38 overall on threes through five games) will do that for you.
Green played in the shadow of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington – all first-round draft choices – on the 2009 North Carolina championship team. Although Hansbrough got most of the publicity for his competitive streak, Green was also a strong competitor. He told me in that same interview that he had won “over 80 percent,” of the time in the legendarily intense summertime pickup games at Smith Center. He claimed his winning percentage was a record.
Green did a little bit of everything then for North Carolina – pump-up-the-crowd pregame dances, blocked shots, rebounds and a dunk over Duke guard Greg Paulus that Tar Heels fans still remember with fondness. But Green was not the deadeye 3-point shooter then that he is now. Ellington was the purest shooter on that team.
Picked in the second round of 2009 draft by Cleveland, Green’s work habits also were questionable during his first years in the NBA. But he has matured. And much like Boris Diaw, Green has thrived in the Spurs’ team-first system.
Diaw was an on-and-off player for the Charlotte Bobcats with fine passing skills, a soft body and a frustrating temperament. But Diaw is fully engaged with the Spurs. He played great defense on LeBron in Game 5 and held James to 1-for-8 shooting during the possessions in which Diaw guarded the NBA’s best player.
Green plays good perimeter defense and shoots beautifully from the 3-point line. And that’s it. He really doesn’t have any NBA-caliber offensive moves besides “spot up and shoot.” But he does that so well that he starts for what may soon be the NBA champion.
To win NBA Finals MVP, Green probably needs one more great game. The NBA Finals needs one more great game, too.
Only one of the first five games has been decided by single digits, and that was Game 1. The average margin of victory has been 17 points.
That’s partly because Green has helped San Antonio run away with a couple of wins. While both teams have their own “Big Three,” it is Green who has been hitting the biggest threes of all – shooting better from long range than his former Cleveland teammate ever has and authoring the most unlikely story of this series.