Coming off a record-setting binge shooting performance in the NBA Finals, the baseline of expectations for Danny Green may have been a little high for a notorious streak shooter the internet has lovingly labeled Icy Hot.
Stand toe-to-toe with Ray Allen, during a playoff run where Green also traded a few three-pointers with Stephen Curry, and perceptions understandably change a little. But even in the brightest moment of his short career, Green's offensive performance over the last two games of the NBA Finals should have been enough to remind of the holes in his game.
The Spurs are barely over a third of the way into the season, and another year pushing franchise record paces guaranteed to end somewhere north of 50 wins makes it increasingly harder to distinguish one year to the next. But while still wildly successful, it's hard to shake the thought that something about the team remains partially dormant–particularly Green.
It's been a difficult run against opponents the Spurs are likely to meet in the second and third rounds of the playoffs in the early going, and things didn't fare very well in a potential Finals preview against the Indiana Pacers either. The starting lineup has been outperformed offensively by the second unit, and a few steps off its normal cohesive brilliance. And Green? Well, Green has been more icy than hot this winter.
These worries aren't technically wrong, but perhaps woefully overblown. Yes, the Spurs have lost their matchups against elite teams, and the starting lineup has struggled through early season shooting slumps from Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard's three-point shot. And Danny Green has struggled. Which explains why Gregg Popovich removed Green from the starting lineup for last night's game against the Toronto Raptors, right?
"You don't bench people because they're not making shots," Popovich said. "We changed the look and the rotation a little bit. It could change again."
It likely will. A large part of the Spurs resurgence is predicated on combining system continuity with defensive length and ability, all of which escape Belinelli, no matter how wonderful he's played this season. The first look at the lineup change wasn't a great one. Belinelli scored four points, shooting 2-7 from the field and missing all five of his three-pointers. But one night is a small sample size, and overreaction to small sample sizes is precisely the reason I've buried the lede of a single game recap.
Green lost his starting job, but remained undeterred.
"It's not about who starts," he said. "It's about who finishes."
Danny Green did finish, drilling a three-pointer three minutes into the fourth quarter, his first of four in the final 12 minutes of the game. It started inauspiciously enough, Green setting a screen for Boris Diaw along the baseline and then turning face to sprint around a Duncan screen to emerge open on the wing for a quick catch and shoot three-pointer.
Green ran a similar route off a Diaw screen for his second three-pointer, flattening it out a little bit further to the corner as the defender tried to adjust and beat Green to the same spot he'd just previously connected from. The final two came as Parker drew attention off the pick and roll and dribble penetration, leaving Green to finish with 14 points on 4-6 shooting from three, leaving his shot chart to resemble his namesake–green.
Danny Green has long been an expert of navigating open spaces on the fringes of the defense. It's been the spotlight that he's had trouble moving around in. Because a shaky handle and inability to finish at the rim in traffic, Green struggles in creating his own shot. More than most, his offense rises and falls with the tide around him.
Green is more a barometer of the offense than anything else. When everything else is clicking, his game follows, which is why quality Green games typically end with quotes like this;
"We won that game becaues of Tony Parker's aggressiveness," Popovich said. "His juice; his aggression all night long. And we made some threes in the fourth quarter. Those are the two reasons we won the game."
The Raptors, in perpetual transition but playing much better since trading Rudy Gay, were lost in pick and roll coverages. Parker was brilliant, getting into the lane at will and constantly putting pressure on the Raptors defense for 26 points and eight assists, and Ginobili contributed 18 points and five assists. Each constantly putting pressure on the defense.
Kawhi Leonard contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds, but more importantly, put the clamps on DeMar DeRozan (13 points on 5-16 shooting). Between Parker's now understated brilliance (it was as quiet and surprising a 26-point performance as any since Tim Duncan was dropping them on a regular basis), Leonard's overall game, Ginobili's resurgnece, and now Green's shooting burst, it would appear things were back to normal for a night.
Except, things were never profoundly off. Danny Green is shooting 41.4 percent from three, which isn't drastically off from the 42.9 percent he shot last season. He's finding one less three-point attempt a night from a year ago, which is significant, given that his scoring average has dipped three points.
Green continues on as he always has. The shooting percentages will rise and drop, but remain a net positive. Missing a few shots isn't a reason to bench a player, especially when he remains largely the same player he was a year ago. A year everyone considered successful.
A night against the Raptors is how we remember Green from a year ago, and remains proof that player is still here. The only thing that's changed is our expectations.