SAN ANTONIO -- The Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals has never been a guy like Danny Green. Maybe it won't be a guy like Danny Green this year, either, but five games into the 2013 Finals he's the leading candidate.
Any idea how crazy that is?
It's ludicrous. The Finals MVP is almost always -- 42 times in 45 years -- a guy who has gone (or will go) to the Hall of Fame. It's Bird and Magic and Jordan and LeBron. Moses Malone. Kareem. Duncan. Jerry West.
This is nuts. Danny Green was fifth
in the league on his team in scoring this season, averaging 10.5 ppg. To put that into perspective, he was just barely ahead of teammate Tiago Splitter (10.3 ppg), and Tiago Splitter is terrible.
Then again, so was Danny Green. And not all that long ago, either. The Cavaliers waived him during training camp in 2010-11, deciding he wasn't good enough to play on a team that went on to post the second-worst record in the NBA at 19-63. Between then and now Green has played for three teams in the D-league and one team in Slovenia, and been released twice by the Spurs.
Guys like this don't become Finals MVP, but Green has the inside track should San Antonio finish off the Heat in a series the Spurs lead 3-2 entering Game 6 on Tuesday night in Miami. He is leading the Spurs in scoring at 18 ppg and doing it in particularly devastating fashion with a Finals record 25 baskets from 3-point range -- five per game -- in only 38 attempts (65.8 percent).
"Not many guys have shot the ball this well, especially in the Finals," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "Not that I can remember."
|Unlikely NBA Finals MVPs|
|1976||Jo Jo White,|
|18.9 ppg, 5.4 apg|
|15.9 ppg, 3.5 apg|
|15.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg|
|17.2 pp, 5.7 apg|
|18.6 ppg, 5.5 apg|
Nobody has, which is why Green could supplant Cedric Maxwell (Boston, 1981) as the most unlikely MVP in NBA Finals history. And Maxwell was a big-time player who had the fortune, good and bad, of playing on the same team as Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. That's three Hall of Fame players in the frontcourt. Maxwell was the team's fourth-best big man. No shame in that, and two years before winning Finals MVP he averaged 19 points and 9.9 rebounds.
Danny Green is no Cedric Maxwell. Two years before doing what he's doing now, Green averaged 5.1 ppg. Last season he averaged 9.1 ppg in the regular season but just 3.3 ppg in the Western Conference finals, when he shot 17.4 percent on 3-pointers. He was so bad that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich yanked him out of the starting lineup and pretty much out of the rotation. In the final two games against the Thunder, Green played seven minutes. Total.
"It was a slump," Green said. "It was bad shooting. Lost a lot of confidence."
Confidence has always been the key for Green. Popovich could see that, even as he was releasing him once, then a second time. Before giving him a third shot Popovich asked Green's former coach at North Carolina, Roy Williams, to demand more confidence.
"Coach Williams at North Carolina and I double teamed him," Popovich said. "I think Coach Williams had a big impact on Danny's mental status. Believing that he belonged. Not getting down if things didn't go well. He just talked to Danny about being confident and about going after a job like he really wanted it. ... Act like somebody is trying to take something away from you."
Green made the team, made the starting lineup and settled into his role as a spot shooter who capitalizes on the penetration of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and on the low-post presence of Tim Duncan. Great shooter? Maybe. Great player? Of course not. In the first round against the Lakers he averaged 7.0 ppg. He scored at a 12 ppg clip in the second round against Golden State, and 8.8 ppg in the Western Conference finals against Memphis.
Now, this. This 18 ppg breakout, featuring monstrous performances in pivotal Games 3 and 5, when the series was tied at 1, then at 2. In Game 3 he scored 27 points and went 7 for 9 on 3-pointers. In Game 5 he scored 24 points on 6-for-10 shooting on 3-pointers. The Heat are in disarray because of it, with coach Erik Spoelstra accusing his players of leaving Green alone and forward Chris Bosh accusing his teammates of not trying hard enough on defense.
Parker is a disruptive force and Duncan is a consistent force, but Green is a demoralizing force. He has been the difference in a series featuring four Finals MVPs -- LeBron, Wade, Parker, Duncan. Will it continue? Let's be honest: It shouldn't.
But this shouldn't be happening -- Danny Green? -- and it is.
"I hope [Green] doesn't wake up," Duncan said, "and keeps playing this way."