SAN ANTONIO – Danny Green has learned during his time in San Antonio that confidence can always be regained with the next shot; that no number of misses should serve as a deterrent when the next open look comes around. Green certainly needed that mind-set in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, when he missed his first five shots but made his last four to lead the Spurs to a 110-95 win over the Miami Heat.
Green single-handedly outscored the Heat’s all-star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, 11-2, in the final 6 minutes 7 seconds of the fourth period, when a faulty air conditioning system at AT&T Center took out James and the Heat was undone by a role player who nearly kept it from winning a championship last season.
“He just kept his composure, kept playing defense and in the fourth quarter finally he made some big shots,” Tony Parker said. “I told him after the game I was proud of him, and you have to keep playing. You’re a young player and you’re going to get a lot of up and downs, and that’s what’s going to show your character. You know, he stuck with it.”
Green forced the Heat to pay attention to him in the 2013 NBA Finals, when he made a record 25 three-pointers in the first five games of the series to give the Spurs a 3-2 lead. In the last two games, the Heat made sure Green didn’t get loose, Green missed 9 of 11 attempts and the Spurs lost.
On Thursday, Green appeared to be headed toward a third straight rough outing as he missed his first four attempts from long distance and scored just two points – from free throws – through the first three quarters. But Tony Parker and other teammates stayed on Green and kept him encouraged until he finally snapped out of his funk to help the Spurs quickly erase a seven-point deficit to take a 1-0 series lead.
“I was pushing him hard,” Parker said. “I don’t know if you saw but every timeout I was screaming at him and encouraging him, and I’m very proud of him because you never know when he’s going to come and nobody said it was easy. Last year, he was on fire but every Finals is different.”
James started to succumb to leg stiffness with about seven minutes left and asked to leave the game. Wade pushed the Heat ahead, 88-84, with a pull-up jumper but the Spurs took advantage of Miam’s aggressive defense to get Green a few wide open looks – and he rediscovered his stroke.
“Shooters learn to shoot, regardless of how bad or well they’re shooting,” Green said. “Yeah, the first half I struggled, I think I rushed it a little bit, a little excited, a little antsy, whatever the case may be. The heat got to me. I’m sure everybody as well, so I knew I had to get back to the fundamentals and take my time, and if I’m wide open if I’m not open, don’t rush it. But if I’m open, take my time and not rush it, get back to the basics.”
San Antonio scored its first three field goals of the period with Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan converting at the rim. So, when Duncan found himself in a favorable position in the post against Rashard Lewis, the Heat defense collapsed.
Boris Diaw noticed Wade cutting to help Lewis and kicked the ball out to a wide open Green in the left corner for his first three. On the next possession, Green fed Diaw in the corner, ran through the lane and popped out above the three-point line. Diaw drove to the basket, again attracting the Heat defense, and he whipped a pass to Green for a three-pointer that put the Spurs ahead, 90-88.
James came back into the game after Green made a fastbreak dunk, with Ray Allen contesting, to put the Spurs up by four. “I just saw one guy next to me or a little behind me and I just tried to get to the rim as fast as possible,” Green said. “I wasn’t thinking about the repercussions. I was just trying to get to the rim as fast as possible.”
James made a driving layup around Diaw but was forced to leave again, this time for good, and Green hit another three-pointer that proved to be the decisive points. Reluctantly watching from the sideline, James has a vivid memory of how Green got open, with the Spurs’ constant movement and misdirection leaving the Heat a step behind. On Saturday, James rattled off every sequence that resulted in a Green three-pointer without needing much time to think.
“A guy like that you can’t take an eye off of, you can’t take a body off of and take account of where he is outside that three point line,” James said of Green, a former teammate in Cleveland.
Green credited his teammates for giving him the confidence and the passes to make a difference.
“We found the open man, which led to open shots and fortunately it was me a couple of times open,” he said. “All game they continue to tell me to shoot, encourage me, keep shooting. It’s going to go, we’re going to need you, it’s going to be there. Tony was in my ear all game, ‘We believe in you, keep shooting. You got to keep playing defense. Keep going at ’em. Shots will come. Stay locked in.’ I did and eventually I broke free and got an open look, two open looks and got a good rhythm going.”