If you ranked the many compelling story lines of this year’s NBA Finals, the play of Spurs shooting guard Danny Green might or might not be No. 1, but it’d definitely be top five. Green’s play in the series has been nothing short of historic — in last night’s Game 5, his six made threes vaulted him past Ray Allen for the all-time record for treys in a Finals series, already beating Ray’s mark of 22 by three, and in one game fewer, no less. (Five more threes in the series and he’d tie Reggie Miller’s all-time record of for most threes made in an entire postseason run, with his 58 in 2000.) Green leads the Spurs with 18 points a game for the series, and is now shooting 57 percent from the field and a mind-boggling 66 percent from three.
Throw in some fine defense, including a couple exceptionally impressive defensive stops in transition during Game 5 on the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and a handful of rebounds a game, and it’s entirely possible that should the Spurs close out the series in Miami, that Danny Green will be the recipient of 2013′s Bill Russel Trophy for Finals MVP. It won’t be a no-brainer — Tim Duncan will have the all-around, two-way numbers and the sentimental vote on his side, and Tony Parker has the reputation of being the team’s most important player and some very impressive highlight plays to his credit. But given the relatively unprecedented nature of Green’s hot shooting in this series, which has started to extend to Stephen Curry-like range beyond the arc, assuming he can avoid pulling a John Starks in the last game or two, he’s going to have a case, at the very least.
If he did win, the word “unprecedented” would apply to more than just Green’s shooting statistics. In some sports, the postseason is frequently marked by unlikely hot streaks or excellent single-game performances that result in non-star, role-player types taking home playoff top honors. Think David Eckstein or Scott Brosius in baseball, or Dexter Jackson or Larry Brown in football. But in basketball, that doesn’t ever really happen. If you were to do a Sporcle quiz on NBA Finals MVPs, it probably wouldn’t take more than a couple minutes, because the winners are generally the guys you expect. Michael Jordan won that trophy during all six of the Bulls’ title runs, Hakeem won the two with the Rockets, Shaq won the first three for the Lakers in the 21st century and Kobe won the next two. Over the course of a series, the most valuable players generally tend to end up the most valuable players.
This, of course, would not account for Danny Green. Before going into this series, Green was seen as little more than the latest success story of the Great Spurs Machine, a franchise who seemed to systematically pump out wings like Green who could shoot threes, play defense, know his role and generally not do anything to hurt the ballclub, just like Bruce Bowen, Roger Mason Jr., Gary Neal, and so on. He averaged 10.5 points on 45 percent FG and 43 percent 3PT with a 14.1 PER, numbers good enough to make him a worthwhile rotation player, but certainly nothing that would have him in All-Star discussions. Not to mention it was unlikely he was ever even going to get that far, seemingly washing out of the league after one season in Cleveland, a former second-round pick coveted by nobody, before being rescued by San Antonio and set back on the righteous path. Hell, he’s still not even the default “Danny Green” on Wikipedia.
Compare that resume to those from the list of previous NBA Finals MVPs, and the differences are pretty staggering. Of the 19 retired players to have received Finals MVP honors, all but two are currently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and of the nine active players to have won, all but one are a lock for the Hall immediately upon retirement, including Green’s teammates, the three-time winner Duncan and the one-time winner Parker. There are no role players, no one who you’d look at and go “Really? How the hell did that guy end up winning over all those other guys on his team?”