Danny Green and the San Antonio Spurs have always had a symbiotic relationship. The shooting guard provides room for his teammates to operate, and in return, they supply him with the shots he struggles to create for himself.
For years, Green has functioned as something of a barometer for the Spurs’ motion-heavy offense. When the ball is freely flowing, and the system right, Green is a devastating off-ball threat.
When the ball sticks, and the offense sputters, Green’s statistical output plummets.
This season, the Spurs have a new team with a different offensive hierarchy–which can be trouble for a player so reliant and in-tune with the old one. Shooters are creatures of habit, and in the Spurs’ new post and isolation-prominent attack, Green has had to adjust to an entirely different way of getting his shots. The lanes through which he navigated his off-ball choreography have fundamentally changed, warped to accommodate the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kawhi Leonard’s (22 points, six rebounds, two assists) new status.
Even as the Spurs’ offense has soared, he’s remained largely disconnected–shooting 32.5 percent from the three-point line–leaving Green to fend for himself.
“I haven’t said a word to him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He comes in and shoots, practices. You have to participate in your own recovery.”
Aptly nicknamed “Icy Hot,” Green is no stranger to the peaks and valleys of a streaky jumper. But never before has he suffered a shooting slump that extended through the end of December.
“Probably the longest, for sure,” Green said after practice on New Year’s Eve. “And yet, a couple of them were right there. Just got to stay with it mentally, not think about the last one, and take the next with confidence.”
Of course, the defense of one James Harden is as good a remedy for season-long shooting slumps as any. On the Spurs’ first possession of the game, Tony Parker found Green alone in the corner, nailing the open three. And as the Houston Rockets continued to smother the Spurs’ offense with their dual-big alignment of Dwight Howard and Clint Capela, it was Green’s shooting that allowed San Antonio to overcome sloppy transition defense and cheap fouls.
Green hit four of his five three-point attempts in the first quarter, sending his teammates rushing to celebrate him during a stoppage of play, and convincing Popovich to forgo his natural rotation–pulling Leonard in the first quarter instead.
You see, though his shooting slump was something Green had to work out for himself, it was never something he had to go through alone.
“Every time you have a teammate not making shots, or not feeling great, you want to help him,” Manu Ginobili (eight points, five assists) said. “You want to give him open shots, open looks. So when he made the first four-out-of-five, it was a great lift for the whole team.”
Green scored 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting from deep, filling out the rest of the box score with four rebounds, three steals, three assists, and a block. With every make, Green’s body language sharpened, his confidence bolstered, until he was once again shooting over the top of fast closeouts and pulling up for three in transition.
“It’s great to see him get his rhythm back. Hopefully this helps to get him out of the shooting slump,” Ginobili said. “Even with all that, he’s important for us because of his defense and energy.
Even through his offensive problems, Green has been an invaluable part of the Spurs’ dominant defense.
In the rematch with the Rockets, Green was tasked with being Harden’s primary defender, and did as well as anyone could expect. Though Harden scored 17 points on just 10 shot attempts, he only took three free throws and had five turnovers to just three assists.
Green repeatedly cutoff angles and constantly showed his hands, refusing to pick up the cheap fouls Harden thrives off of. On more than one occasion, Green beat Harden to his spot on the floor, compelling the Rockets’ captain to simply halt his movement mid-play, giving up on the possession.
“They just ran their stuff better than us tonight,” Houston forward Corey Brewer said. “They were the Spurs like the way the Spurs always play. They run their stuff crisp and if you don’t guard them the right way, they’re going to get easy layups and easy shots.”
After the Spurs were outmuscled in their Christmas day game against the Rockets, it was Houston who failed to fight back against an onslaught of post play and three-point shooting.
The combination of Howard and Capella continued to muck up the Spurs’ driving and interior passing lanes–holding Tim Duncan scoreless for the first time in his NBA career. But in Aldridge (24 points, nine rebounds) they’ve acquired the type of scorer who can work one-on-one, negating the need for such tactics. And in Boris Diaw, the Spurs have the ultimate matchup breaker.
Aldridge worked Capella over in the third quarter, scoring 11 points during the deciding 36-17 run–hitting midrange jumpers, turnarounds, and finishing around the rim.
And Diaw scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half, proving too large and skilled in the post for the likes of Terrence Jones, with too much perimeter shooting and playmaking for Capela. Diaw’s presence opened lanes, and his passing further distorted defenses, posting a +18 in the plus-minus department–making the win against the Rockets look far too easy.
“LaMarcus calls him tea time because it looks like he’s out there taking his time, drinking tea, walking down the lane,” Green joked afterwards. “It’s kind of funny, but he’s effective. He does what he does, he’s crafty, and he makes it look easy.”
For most of the year, the Spurs have made it look easy, even as they’ve adjusted to new pieces. And though they’ve tied a franchise-best start through 35 games, there’s plenty of room for improvement should Saturday’s game lead to Green finding his place and his shot. Something he acknowledges remains to be seen.
“It’s one good game, let’s not get too excited too early,” Green said. “Hopefully it’s a build-up to get a rhythm.”
For Green, hitting a shot inspires the same reaction as missing: Forget about the last one, take the next with confidence.