Why did the Spurs lose Game 6 of the Finals? Part 2: Did Danny Green really disappear?

Kevin C. Cox

We are taking a closer look at game six (and seven) of the finals to see if what fans think they remember is actually accurate, In this second installment, it's Danny Green's time in the hot seat.

Like every other epic loss in sports history, a certain mythology has sprung up around the end of Game 6 of the Finals between the Spurs and the Heat. It's understandable for the loss to be a sore spot for every Spurs fan, and each person deals with the loss in their own way. But over the past few weeks a few camps have sprung up in Spurs nation, blaming certain parties for the championship that wasn't; some implicate Pop's late-game decisions, others denounce Manu's turnovers, some indite Green for disappearing, and the rest are split between dogging Splitter and Parker.

As the off-season progresses, we'll be focusing on the details of the loss to determine whether any of these cases have merit, or whether they're just things that fans remember even though they have little basis in fact. So it's time to exhume the casket of the 2012/13 Spurs to see what exactly happened, and find out whether or not the mistakes of the past are destined to be repeated.

In this second installment, we take a look at Danny Green's quiet couple of series-ending games.

The Narrative

After setting the NBA record for three-pointers in a playoff series, and in the Finals, Danny Green disappeared when it mattered most. He's a three point shooting expert that went 2-11 in the last two games. He choked, just like he did against OKC last season.

The Reality

First, let's acknowledge that the crazy three point percentage Green was averaging in the finals was both an historical achievement and completely unsustainable. Only two other players managed a 45%+ three point shooting percentage on more than 100 attempts in the playoffs. And before his rough stretch over the last two games, Green was averaging almost 66% from three on 7.6 attempts per game. Those numbers are ridiculous and were a big reason why the Spurs were leading the series 3-2. Unable to keep that pace going, Green finished the series shooting a still-remarkable 55%.

But we need to talk about the last two games. In those, he shot 2-11 for a paltry 18%.

The first thing to notice: Green's decrease in number of attempts. Two of those eleven shots came right at the buzzer, so he took nine shots in two games after averaging over seven per game in the past five games. But looking at the video, he didn't really pass up shots or change his game -- the teams did. Yes, both of them.

After Green destroyed them in earlier games by exploiting the Miami's ball-watching tendencies, whichever Heat defender was assigned to him put a priority on staying closer to him, and closed out more aggressively in any situation when they had to help off of him. Miami gambled that Green was not going to make them pay off the bounce, and they were right as Danny went 0-2 on two point attempts in game six and 0-6 in game seven, when he tried to be more assertive.

But the biggest damage to Green's three point attempts probably came from the Spurs' change in approach. After going out of their way to get Green chances and basically giving him the green light, he was marginalized on offense, leaving only drive and kicks as the opportunities for three pointers. And with the Spurs not attacking off pick and rolls as much, Green's ability to hit those open jumpers became less important.

The Spurs could likely have fond ways to get Green three point attempts, ways they used before the last couple of games. They just decided not to. Here are some examples of what they did earlier in the series but not in games 6 and 7.

As a screener

You see here how the Spurs prepare a double screen for Parker. Green screens first and Splitter second.

Green_screening_1

As Parker uses those and Splitter draws attention, Green is left open. The Spurs used this strategy a couple of times.

Green_screening_2

As a pick and roll ball handler

Green calls for a screen and uses it to create some separation.

Green_p_r_1

When he gets it, he pulls the trigger off the dribble.

Green_p_r_2

That wasn't really in his repertoire during the regular season but the way he was shooting in the playoffs, the team felt confident enough to give him the green light.

As a cutter from the weak side corner

The Spurs used the Heat's aggression against them, sending Green from the weak side corner to the strong side while his man shifted towards the middle to prevent the roll.

Green_baseline_1

This play worked great with Splitter, who would then screen for Green.

Green_baseline_2

But the Spurs didn't run that as much, and when they did the Heat stayed with Green, to the point that he only got two looks like that in the last two games, both in game six and coming from baseline cuts on Parker-Splitter pick and rolls (as seen in the screen cap). Leonard screened in those two games much more than Green, who mostly spotted up. With Manu on the floor, he didn't have the ball in his hands much to initiate a pick and roll and the Heat defenders started to go out a little further out to contest, knowing that Green was not going to split the defense. With Splitter playing less and the Spurs going away from the pick and roll, those opportunities to cut and exploit the D disappeared. All Green had left were spot up looks after drive and kicks.

Verdict

I could post all of his looks, but some were open and some weren't. Green simply missed, like every shooter ever does on occasion, some shots he had been making. But the important thing to say here is that Green didn't disappear because he was afraid to take shots. The Spurs decided to shift the offensive focus to Duncan inside, which meant Green was going to be used as a threat more than a weapon. The Heat also made it a point to prioritize defending him. Additionally, he went cold after starting out scorching hot, and the Spurs didn't force feed him looks to snap him out of it. And since his cold streak came at the worse possible time, it got a lot of attention.

It will be interesting to see if Green figures out how to remain effective even when guarded more closely. For that he will need to either develop a pick-and-roll game that includes a shot off the dribble or better finishing abilities to punish defenses that overplay the closeout. And the Spurs (and by that I mean Pop) need to figure out if he is going to be a featured shooter that gets plays called for him or just a floor-spacing guard who waits for spot-up opportunities.

Screen caps and stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

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