The NBA Finals.
Where the tough get tougher, the Best become legendary and everybody else is supposed to become mere footnotes in Their Histories.
M.J., Shaq, Russell, Havlicek, Kareem, Magic, Bird, Duncan – They became Immortals not because They dominated regular seasons but because They owned the final, postseason games the whole rigarmarole is designed for in the first place.
The footnotes, mere mortals, are role players who put up good enough numbers when the lights aren’t brightest but pretty much crumble in the biggest pressure cooker of them all.
For instance, you’ve got LA Laker guard Sasha Vujacic, who in the 2007-08 regular season shot 45.4% on field goals and 43.7% on threes. You wouldn’t have known it in the Finals against Boston, though. There, Vujacic shot 39.1% on FGs and 34.8% on threes.
Also, New Jersey Net guard Kerry Kittles, circa 2002-03. Kittles was money in the regular season, shooting 46.7% on FGs and a respectable 35.6% on threes. Against the Spurs in the Finals, those numbers plummeted to 37.7% and 30.4%.
And don’t forget Nick Anderson, the Orlando Magic guard whose shooting touch went AWOL in the 1995 Finals against Houston. Anderson shot 47.6% on FGs and 41.5% on threes in the regular season, but careened into a 36%/32.3% ditch during a 4-0 sweep by the Rockets.
I don’t mean to hate on these guys. They each did plenty good work in their careers, too. But the term “stepping up to the moment” wouldn’t exist unless the opposite happened. And for Vujacic, Kittles, Anderson and hundreds more like them, the opposite happened.
You can’t get around it: there’s a pecking order in this league when it comes to skill, talent, experience, confidence and killer instinct; in the Finals, this becomes most clear.
At least, that was the theory.
Danny Green’s record-setting three point shooting has just about napalmed commonly held assumptions about the NBA’s power hierarchy and who is and isn’t good enough to talk to Doris Burke and her outrageously pastel pink attire after Finals games.
In five Finals games, he has shot 66% from beyond the arc and made five three-pointers a game. There has been discussion about his chances at winning the Finals MVP award if San Antonio wins the series. My gut feeling is that he won’t – the nine media members who vote on the award will go with the more well-rounded Tony Parker or sentimental favorite Tim Duncan.
His MVP merit is very much up in the air and will remain that way until the vote is taken, if the Spurs win. What’s isn’t up for debate is the fact that at 18 ppg he is leading his team in scoring in these Finals. Parker is next at 16.2 ppg.
On the biggest stage of his career, when his role player status tells us he should be channeling more J.J. Redick than Reggie Miller, Green has upped his scoring average by nearly 80%.
This surge gets even trippier if you consider the 25-year-old has already been cut twice by NBA teams and two years ago averaged 5.1 ppg.
As Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports
writes: “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.”
So, given Green’s thoroughly undistinguished resume, how unique is it for someone to make such a surprising scoring splash in the NBA/ABA Finals?
Is Green in a class all his own or does he have some competition for most unexpected scorer?