Danny Green's Rank Among Most Unexpected Leading Scorers in Finals History
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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; what the whole rigmarole is designed for in the first place.
The footnotes are the mere mortals, 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 games.
In five Finals appearances against Miami, Green 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 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? Here are the most surprising performances for a player in the NBA and ABA Finals history.
No. 4: Jamaal Wilkes
Smooth in a sartorial sense, too.
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Wilkes may be the most underrated contributor to the Showtime Lakers of the early 1980s.
There was always a bigger name, or seemingly bigger performance, around to overshadow this 6'7'' forward. Exhibit A: In the clinching Game 6 against Philadelphia in the 1980 Finals, Wilkes poured in 37 points and 10 rebounds.
Which is great, except for the part about his rookie teammate Magic Johnson, starting at center, going off for 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.
Two years later, the Lakers found themselves back in the Finals after sweeping through their first eight playoff games. L.A. was loaded with preeminent scorers, including three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo (in a substitute role) and their leading scorers through the first two series—guard Norm Nixon and all-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Wilkes, though, ended up pacing his team against Philadelphia with a steady stream of smooth, textbook corner jumpers. In six games, he averaged 19.7 PPG despite shooting only 43.5% from the field.
Amazingly, five Lakers averaged more than 16 points per game in these Finals.
No. 3 Bill Bradley
Bill Bradley did a lot of things well for the great Knicks teams of early 1970s.
The cerebral 6'5'' forward passed superbly, communicated excellently, played stout defense and could run all day and night.
One thing he did not do well was fill up the box score. Although Bradley has made the Hall of Fame, he did not do so on the merit of eye-popping stats. For his career, the Princeton grad averaged 12.4 PPG with a career high of 16.1 PPG in 1972-73.
Throughout that season, Walt Frazier had paced the Knicks in the scoring department. The best all-around guard in basketball averaged 21.1 PPG in the regular season, which he bumped up by more than a couple points in New York's first two playoff rounds against Baltimore and Boston.
In those rounds, guard Earl Monroe and forward Dave DeBusschere also scored more points than Bradley.
There were no memorable scoring outbursts from the baseline jump-shooting Bradley in the Finals against the aging Los Angeles Lakers. Those belonged to Monroe and DeBusschere.
But when the smoke cleared from five games, Bradley somehow stood on top with an 18.6 PPG average. All five N.Y. starters averaged more than 15 points a game.
No. 2 Cedric Maxwell
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Unlike Bradley and Wilkes, Cedric Maxwell was never elected to an NBA All-Star Game.
Still, he was much more an integral part of the 1980-81 Boston Celtics than Danny Green was for the Spurs heading into the 2013 Finals.
Maxwell, a 6'8'' forward, did yeoman's work around the basket for a Celtics team led by young star Larry Bird. For his career, he averaged 12.5 PPG and was hovering a little above that in the first two rounds of the 1981 Playoffs.
Bird, as expected, was lighting it up—ringing up nearly 24 PPG in the first round, then orchestrating 33, 34 and 32-point masterpieces in a 7-game thriller against Philadelphia.
Through those rounds, Boston's second-leading scorer was 5'11'' dynamo Nate Archibald, the disco era's answer to Allen Iverson. "Tiny" had been big with more than 17 PPG.
In the first two games of the Finals against Houston, Bird continued to do his thing by chipping in 20 PPG, 21 rebounds a game and a raft of assists and steals. Meanwhile, steady "Cornbread" Maxwell just kept dipping himself into the flow of the games, steady as can be.
In Games 3 through 5, Bird struggled, along with Archibald, but Maxwell just kept plugging along, playing the series of his life when it counted most.
Bird bounced back with a strong, series-clinching Game 6 but by then it was too late: Maxwell led the team with 17.7 PPG (on 56.8 percent shooting) and became the most obscure Finals MVP ever.
Bird finished behind Maxwell with 15.3 PPG on 41.9 percent shooting.
No. 1: Danny Green
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No surprise here.
Without a doubt, Green would be the most out-of-the-(Tarheel)blue leading scorer in the NBA Finals for a championship team.
"He's out of the same mold that I was … If he makes it, I'll have someone else in my troop," Cedric Maxwell told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. "I'm rooting for Danny Green."
It all seems too good to be true: The 25-year-old second-round pick who rose from NBDL obscurity to a place where he's overshadowing guys like LBJ, Wade, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in one of the most talent-filled Finals of all time.
Of all the amazing stats he's so far accomplished, here's the most mind-boggling: Green makes five more threes in this series, and he'll tie Reggie Miller's all-time record for most threes (58) made in an entire postseason run.
More than HALF of Green's record-breaking threes would come in the Finals.
You'll notice the word "would" is operative here.
For Green to keep making history, and avoid relegation to footnote status, the Spurs would have to win one more game. Likely, that entails Green continuing his hot streak.
But can he?
He's already done it for five games, but you can bet the Heat will zero in on him like never before now that their backs are against the wall. Green's playing out of his mind, yes, but he hasn't yet experienced full-game 100 percent defensive efforts from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and even Mario Chalmers.
How well do you think Green will shoot in the last game or two of this series?
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