The biggest question before Game 3 of the Rockets-Spurs Western Conference semifinals matchup was how San Antonio would cope without Tony Parker. It was the franchise’s first playoff game without him in 16 years. Gregg Popovich decided to start rookie Dejounte Murray to preserve Patty Mills’s vital role in the rotation (and notably over Kyle Anderson; pour one out for Kyle Anderson), but surely he would not be leading the team over the Rockets. The Spurs were going to need LaMarcus Aldridge to reanimate, Jonathon Simmons to stay hot, and Kawhi Leonard to remain unflappable. All of those things happened, particularly from Aldridge, who poured in 26 points and resembled his Portland self, the guy who dominates from the left elbow. But the most heart-warming performance of Game 1 was Danny Green’s.
Green set an impossibly high bar for himself in the 2013 NBA Finals, when he made 27 3s in the series, setting an NBA record (summarily broken by Steph Curry with 32 last year). The Spurs lost that series (duh), and everything Green has done since has been a disappointment. At one point he was topping Ray Allen as the best shooter in the NBA Finals, so the drop-off was inevitable. His efficiency, efficacy, and general importance could only go down. His shortcomings have been abundantly apparent, though, because every time he does something dumb, the cameras pan to Coach Pop to catch his reaction.
This happened in Game 3 when, with the Spurs leading by nine and 6:26 to play, Green reached in on James Harden. One of Pop’s central tenets is “Do not foul,” so naturally, he was displeased. The camera caught him pacing in front of his bench, while David Lee nodded his head in agreement. Pop’s head was turned so his face wasn’t visible, but assistant coach Ime Udoka could be seen yelling, “Stop reaching!” Green responded by shaking his head in annoyance and mild disbelief. It was the typical, comical, slightly sad Danny Green experience.
But just as I was ready to accept him as a solid defender, streaky shooter, former sidelined dancer, he surprised me, and probably the Rockets. At the 3:20 mark of the fourth quarter, Pop called a timeout to draw up a play. The action resulted in a 3-point shot for Danny Green, who had Harden on him. He drained it, his second 3 of the quarter. That put the Spurs up 12, and while it wasn’t quite the dagger of Game 3, it set off a series of events that sealed the game for San Antonio. As has been discussed ad nauseum throughout the 2016–17 NBA season, Green got Lasik eye surgery to correct his vision last offseason in an effort to improve his shooting. And on this night, it was finally worth it. Praise medicine!
Without Parker, the Spurs’ system is the second-most important asset they have (behind Leonard, of course). Green finished the 103–92 victory with 11 points, three rebounds, and a plus-nine. And while that’s not dazzling, it’s the kind of output — solid defense, effective on offense — the Spurs need.