The Danny Green who was active and smart and sure in the second quarter on Wednesday was the Danny Green the Lakers needed to jolt them into taking firm control of the opener of the NBA Finals.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Green sparked the scoring spree that turned into a 116-98 Laker rout at AdventHealth Arena. Or that he was credited with three blocked shots, two steals, and a plus/minus of plus-21, second on the Lakers to Anthony Davis’ plus-23. Fans winced at his rough shooting during the Lakers’ first-round playoff series against Portland and proclaimed him a potential weak link that could undermine the Lakers’ championship chances, but his teammates never thought so. They knew better.
“I’ve watched Danny in playoffs that he’s played in and I’ve seen him knock down big shots consistently. For us as a team, we know what Danny can do and we just encourage him every day, every game, to keep shooting,” guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We know that Playoff Danny is going to come out and knock down shots like he did tonight.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that Green, who signed a two-year, $30-million contract as a free agent in July of 2019, thrives under pressure. Playoff Danny has been to the Finals three times before and has won the championship twice, beating now-teammate LeBron James and Miami while with San Antonio in 2014 and prevailing again last season with Toronto in a six-game series against Golden State.
Green and James are three wins away from joining John Salley (Detroit, Chicago and the Lakers) and Robert Horry (Houston, the Lakers and San Antonio) as the only players to win NBA titles with three franchises, though Green’s quest to join that short and distinguished list has been overshadowed by James’ spectacular numbers and multi-layered performances in the NBA’s Florida playoff bubble. To Lakers coach Frank Vogel, Green isn’t a hidden gem — he’s a gem. Period.
“He’s a winner. He makes winning plays. He provides on a regular basis defensive toughness and rebounding and all those types of things, and great IQ and understanding,” Vogel said. “He’s either going to blast you from the three-point line or carry the threat to blast you from the three-point line, and that just helps your offense. So it’s no surprise Danny’s had so much team success throughout his career. He’s just a winning player.”
Green on Wednesday put his strong imprint on a game that had teetered back and forth in the early going. The Heat built a 13-point lead in the first quarter only to have the Lakers push past them, but the second of two straight three-point shots by Heat super sub Tyler Herro gave Miami a 43-41 lead with seven minutes and 30 seconds left in the second quarter.
On the first play out of the time out, Green sank a three-point shot that gave the Lakers a lead they never relinquished. He assisted on a three-point shot by Davis that padded the Lakers’ margin to four and pushed the lead to eight with a floater. He added another three-point field goal to pad the Lakers’ lead to 12 and also helped quash a Miami response by blocking a shot by Andre Iguodala. Later in the quarter, his steal gave the Lakers a possession they finished off with a dunk by Davis for a 17-point lead.
The Heat, hobbled by a succession of injuries, wilted in the face of the Lakers’ physical dominance. Green finished with 11 points on four-for-nine shooting, including three of eight from three-point range. He broke a tie with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher to take seventh place on the list of three-point shots made in the NBA Finals, with 51.
Dwight Howard, who again started at center, welcomed the assurance that Green brought to the floor on Wednesday. “Every day we talk about making sure we get Danny some really good shots behind the three-point line to get his confidence going, and we did that. He had confidence in his shot,” Howard said.
“We’re going to make sure Danny and [Caldwell-Pope] get open looks. Once those guys get going, that means we’re a tougher team to have to guard, if you have to worry about those guys at the three-point line. … We’re very confident in our shooters and we want to make sure we get those guys these shots.”
Green wasn’t among the players who participated in the postgame media webinar, but he has other outlets to express his thoughts. He hosts a podcast called “Inside the Green Room,” where he discusses basketball issues and, last week, spoke to Lakers president Jeanie Buss about the Finals.
It was during one episode of the podcast that he praised the fans who were loyal enough to continue supporting the Lakers after their playoff-opening loss to Portland and clapped back at others who had ripped him or the team on social media. “So when it’s all said and done, hopefully in October if we continue to play the way I know we’re capable, we can tell those fake fans to go somewhere and won’t invite them to the parade,” he said.
Safety precautions born of the COVID-19 pandemic probably will rule out a parade, he acknowledged, but he made his point. He became Playoff Danny because he comes through when it matters, and so do the Lakers. They’re too strong, too talented and too deep to be stopped now, even if they’ll have to settle for a virtual parade afterward instead of the real thing.