SAN ANTONIO -- If Danny Green keeps this up, keeps leading the NBA Finals in scoring and stabbing the Heat in the heart with these laser three-pointers, it'll be the second time he has denied LeBron James a championship.
The first? Back in 2009-10. Green was a raw rookie buried on the bench with the Cavs. LeBron needed help in Cleveland and didn't get enough from Green and others. You know the story from there. LeBron took his talents to South Beach. Green took his lack of developed talents to the Spurs. Who cut him after six days.
Three years later, a pair of ex-teammates are crossing paths in the most unlikeliest of ways and places. Green is coming up big for the Spurs, LeBron not so massive for the Heat. The championship series is being determined by both players, going in opposite directions. Who saw this weird coincidence coming four years ago, or even four weeks ago?
"Not me," said Green.
Yet here they are, giving the series a unique twist. LeBron is struggling to find a rhythm and balance on offense while Green is the most comfortable player on the floor. One is a four-time MVP coming off a ballistic 18-month stretch of basketball dominance. The other was cut not once, but twice by the Spurs and did time in the D-League before finally getting the chance to prove he belongs in the league.
Green is averaging 18.7 points in the Finals on 63 percent shooting, astonishing considering his shots are being taken from deep range. LeBron is shooting 39 percent and averaging 16.7 points and has taken just six free throws in the series, none in Game 3.
"He had a bad game, and that happens," said Green. "You know he's going to come back a different player. We've seen this from him before. I've seen this from him before."
The Cavs took Green in the second round after a decent college career at North Carolina, where he won a national title but wasn't a standout. He played only 20 games as a rookie and says he had no confidence. Meanwhile, LeBron dealt with a tense time in Cleveland on the final year of his contract. All season he left people guessing, right up until the clumsy end.
"All along, I thought he was coming back," said Green. "But what did I know? He was my guy in Cleveland. We spent some time together and got along well. But he didn't discuss it with me. We didn't speak much about it. He just made his decision and left."
LeBron wasn't the only player on his way out of town. At least leaving was his choice. The Cavs dumped Green later that summer after just one season, a vote of no-confidence that normally isn't done by a rebuilding team desperate for young talent. Green was crushed and wasn't sure if he had a future in the NBA.
"I had many doubts," he said. "I was losing confidence by the day. I didn't know where I was going. I just worked out every day and felt good things would come my way eventually."
The Spurs signed him three weeks into the season, then released him after two games. Green went to the D-League, played well, was re-signed by the Spurs, then sent back to the D-League. His third tour of duty with the Spurs was sealed by a big training camp and a three-year, $12 million contract. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich scolded Green about picking up the intensity, and when Green finally turned the volume up, it was enough for the Spurs. Popovich figured Green would eventually cut into Manu Ginobili's minutes. Which he has.
Typical Spurs. They manage to get help in so many unconventional ways, more than any team. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter all came from Europe. Green was a former D-Leaguer. And Gary Neal, who pounded Miami in Game 3 with a string of three-pointers, went undrafted and played in Turkey. Remember, this is an organization that flushed a few years out of Robert Horry, Danny Ferry, Steve Kerr, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley and a few others, players either on their last legs or were simply overlooked or unwanted. Somehow they become reborn in San Antonio, or in the case of the young players, simply born. So you might say Green fit right in.
"I feel like everybody on this team has a story," he said. "Pop and R.C. (Buford, the GM) do a great job of finding guys in weird places. In the Finals you need guys to step up and sometimes that comes from weird places."
Green has been important because Ginobili, clearly, is starting to stumble. He's shooting 37 percent in the series, losing his dribble and never causing much concern for the Heat. That's why Green's minutes are on the rise and so is his production. He has made 16 of 23 from deep, almost 70 percent, while helping out defensive on LeBron.
"This has been very surreal. Like a dream," he said.
Same for LeBron, except more like a nightmare so far.
"It (weighed) heavily on me," he said. "I'm a positive guy. I love the game. I have fun with the game. As dark as it was (for me) last night, it can't get any darker than that. So I guarantee I'll be better."
Everyone believes that. Especially Green. He saw LeBron from a point-blank range in Cleveland ("he's even better now," Green said) and saw what LeBron did last year in the Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals. Really, what are the odds of LeBron staying underground offensively for a fourth straight game? Not much.
"We have a feeling what might be coming our way," Green said. "We'll have to be better defensively than we've already been."
But what can the Heat do about Danny Green? Suddenly, that's an issue. He's been consistently good the entire series and his confidence is swollen. If you're LeBron, you're thinking two things about Green right now.
One: Where can I get what he's eating?
Two: Where was this back in 2009 when I needed him?