SPURS-GRIZZLIES, GAME 2: Underrated Green's defense key for Silver and Black

Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
First-round playoff series
(Spurs lead 1-0)

Game 1: Spurs 111, Grizzlies 82, Saturday, AT&T Center
Game 2: Monday, 8:30 p.m., AT&T Center
Game 3: Thursday, 8:30 p.m., Memphis
Game 4: Saturday, 7 p.m., Memphis
Game 5: Tuesday, April 25 (time TBD), AT&T Center*
Game 6: Thursday, April 27 (time TBD), Memphis*
Game 7: Saturday, April 29 (time TBD), AT&T Center*
*if necessary

SAN ANTONIO – Because Spurs guard Danny Green plays with Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the last two seasons, he's often overlooked as a top defender in his own right.

But while overshadowed by Leonard, Green’s defensive handiwork has long been appreciated by his teammates and coach Gregg Popovich.

Green also has earned the respect of Spurs opponents, who recognize the key role he plays on one of the league’s best defenses.  

Green was at his best in the Silver and Black’s 111-82 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round series opener Saturday night. He finished with four blocked shots and a steal while handling the lion’s share of locking down point guard Mike Conley.

Game 2 tips off at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the AT&T Center. 

Green missed his only two field-goal attempts in Game 1, both from 3-point range, and finished with only two points, but his impact on the game was undeniable.

While saying Green is “absolutely” underrated, Memphis coach David Fizdale made it clear he had the Grizzlies’ respect and attention before Saturday night.

“We always talk about him,” Fizdale said.

Conley scored 10 points in the first quarter, but he finished with only 13 and went scoreless in the second half when the Grizzlies unraveled.

Green responded to the laudatory comments with his typical humility, deflecting credit to his teammates when asked about the defense he played against Conley.

“I think it was a group effort. It wasn’t just me,”  Green, who also had five rebounds said. “Patty (Mills) did a great job on him, Kawhi, Tony (Parker). We had different spurts on him, threw different looks at him, kind of tried to wear him down a little bit. We have a lot of good defenders around here,”

Then Green looked in the direction of Leonard’s locker.

“You have that guy in the locker room,” Green said. “He does everything for us.”

While Leonard is the Spurs’ best player on both ends of the court, Green has figured prominently in the team’s success with his steady play and commitment to play defense.

“It’s such a luxury to have Kawhi and Danny starting because both are great defensive players and they can both guard point guards, too, and you’ve got to give Tony or Patty a break,” veteran Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “He’s (Green) very good at getting blocks and getting in the paint, contesting shots, so he’s a great defensive player,"

“Danny has done it great all season long. As I always say, it’s harder to get noticed because he plays alongside Kawhi.”

Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge described Green as “big-time” player.

“Sometimes I think he is overlooked because he’s not so dynamic,” Aldridge said. “But he plays great position defense, tries to pressure guys. He makes certain steals that are big for us. He’s definitely key for us.”

Ahead by 13 points in the first quarter before the Spurs cut the deficit to 30-25 at the end of the period, Memphis trailed only 52-49 at the half before it fell apart. Outscored 59-33 in the second half, the Grizzlies shot only 30.8 percent overall (12/39) and 18.2 percent (2/11) in the last two quarters.

The breaking point for Memphis came in the third quarter, when it was outscored 32-15. Trailing 74-64 with 1:53 left in the period, and down 84-64 going into the final quarter, the Grizzlies were buried by a 19-0 run that put the Spurs up 93-64 with 8:50 remaining.

While Popovich said the Spurs had “three or four different people” guarding Conley, he praised Green’s defensive work.

“He’s a fine player and he’s way underrated,” Popovich said. “He can do so many things and he’s smart on top of that,”

A North Carolina alum, Green made his NBA debut with Cleveland in November 2009. In his eighth NBA season, Green has played with San Antonio since 2010.

At 6-foot 6-inches, Green taps into his height, length and athletic ability to be a disruptive force as a defender. He’s often at his best in transition defense, stopping baskets even when he’s outnumbered.  

“Kawhi takes the shot usually, and a lot of times he’ll crash the boards,” Green said. “It’s really me and Tony getting back... Sometimes it’s just me.”

Green has a knack for anticipating an opponent’s pass on the break, often deflecting the ball or getting a steal.

“One of the things about him is he finds a way to win the fast-break battle,” Fizdale said. “You think you have numbers and he strips or blocks your shot. He’s one of the best in the league at that,”

Leonard was succinct when he was asked what makes Green so effective in transition defense.

“He reads what guys are going to do, and gets a hand on the ball,” Leonard said.

Green took the praise in stride.

“I’m not a great gambler, but I get lucky, I guess, when I gamble sometimes out there,” Green said. “Just kind of reading what I might do on offense, what decisions or passes they might look at. A lot of times I get lucky. Sometimes I try to foul a guy, and they don’t call it or I get a steal or a deflection.”

It’s all in a day’s work for Green, who has thrived while playing in the shadow of the league’s best defensive player.

“He’s underrated,” Fizdale said. “He’s a champion. He knows what it takes, understands sacrifice.”

© 2017 KENS-TV


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