If only there were an "Almost Most Valuable Player Award," Danny Green would be holding the trophy. The dynamic Spurs player from North Babylon was so good in the NBA Finals last season that he got his team within an eyelash of the title. And had the Spurs won, there was a solid chance he would have been the MVP.
That it didn't happen does not haunt Green. It encourages, inspires and motivates him.
"Great experience, definitely a confidence-booster for sure. It let me know I can play on this level, pretty much on any level, against the best," he said before contributing 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in the Spurs' 103-89 loss to the Nets Thursday night at Barclays Center. "We were right there where we needed to be as a group. For the most part, it allowed me to know what the playoffs are like, what the Finals are like, so it won't be new to me when I go back."
Green, 26, pointedly said "when," not "if." He never has set his sights low and he never has let himself down. His story is familiar to Long Islanders: He stood out for North Babylon and then St. Mary's, held his family together while his father was serving a sentence in Riverhead jail on a drug conspiracy charge, won an NCAA title with North Carolina (and set a school record for victories) despite playing the final with an injury, withstood being cut by the Cavaliers and the Spurs, and finally caught on.
The 6-6 guard/forward was so good last spring that he set an NBA Finals record for three-pointers. He is so good now that he came back from a 10-game absence with a broken finger, endured a "get your feet wet" return Monday and played 46 very productive minutes in a double-overtime win in Washington on Wednesday. He made a crucial three-pointer late in the second overtime, grabbed the rebound that put the game out of reach and finished with 22 points.
Because of the double-overtime game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested Tim Duncan Thursday night even though Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard were out with injuries.
Said Green, "I'm not going to lie, I'm exhausted. A lot of minutes in a short amount of nights. I'm really wishing that some of those guys were healthy right now. It's always good to play a lot of minutes, but at the same time, it would have been good to have some of those other guys healthy tonight.''
It was clear Thursday night that Green is officially good enough to be razzed by Popovich. When the coach was asked how Green got up to speed so quickly, Popovich deadpanned, "All he does is shoot. He doesn't play any 'D,' he doesn't do anything else. That's not too tough. Like riding a bike."
Of course, Popovich knows that playing again Thursday night, with only one experienced substitute, could be considered pushing the envelope. Green was ready to go, and literally pushing envelopes, addressing them to hold tickets for 25 to 30 relatives and friends (including his brother Devonte, a big scorer for Long Island Lutheran).
Green loves coming back here. He holds clinics every summer in North Babylon and Floral Park and said he intends to keep doing so.
"I'm just trying to give something to kids who can't afford to go to Five Star or the camps around the country," he said. "Give them something local, give them a chance to interact with somebody from their hometown who has exceeded expectations."
His own expectations went much higher after last June. "We were so close and let it slip away," Green said. "Hopefully, we come back with a chip on our shoulder, that much hungrier to go back again."