The first three games of the 2013 NBA Finals have provided us with one fantastic finish and two epic second-half blowouts. As a result, the San Antonio Spurs hold a 2-1 series lead over the defending champion Miami Heat with Game 4 set for Thursday night in San Antonio.
Among the many predictions and storylines heading into the series, Danny Green: Finals MVP was not in the discussion nor should it have been. As I wrote leading up to Game 1, Green was a former D-League retread who had been cut by both Cleveland and the Spurs before eventually landing back in San Antonio and ascending to his current role as starting shooting guard.
Nevertheless, three games into his first NBA Finals, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that Green is leading candidate for MVP of the series. Here are seven reasons—one for every 3-pointer he made in Game 3—why Green would be the most deserving MVP if the Finals ended today.
1. He’s the 2013 NBA Finals’ leading scorer.Put the fancy metrics away for a second. On the NBA’s biggest stage, the leading scorer for the winning team more often then not takes home the hardware. In three games Green is averaging a series-best 18.7 points per game, which is more than 8 points per game better than his regular season average. He’s the only Spur to score in double figures in all three games this series, and he’s done so despite averaging only 10 attempts per game.
2. He’s outperformed LeBron James.
Green: 56 points on 30 shots, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 1 turnover in 95 minutes
James: 50 points on 54 shots, 37 rebounds, 22 assists, 3 blocks, 6 turnovers in 121 minutes
You certainly can make the case that LeBron’s stat line is more well-rounded, especially in terms of rebounds and assists. But when you factor in Green’s timely defense on James, this is at least a dead heat, which no one would have predicted when this series began, especially those who remember Green as LeBron’s dance partner back in their Cleveland days together when Green was a rookie.
3. He’s shooting lights out from 3-point range.
Green has shot 16-23 from downtown (69.5 percent), and that includes his desperation heave that he missed badly to avoid a shot clock violation.
4. The Big 3 has been inconsistent.
Heading into the series, logic said that if the San Antonio Spurs win the title, the MVP would be Tony Parker or Tim Duncan with Manu Ginobli as a third, albeit a more distant, possibility. But while Duncan and Parker both put their stamp on the Game 1 victory, neither has stood out in the other two games. Duncan had a 9-point, 3-13 effort in the Game 2 blowout loss. Meanwhile Parker followed a 5-14, 5 assist, 5 turnover Game 2 performance with a Game 3 that was cut short due to injury. And Ginobli has scored in double figures only once in the series and is shooting just 9-24.
5. Green’s candidacy is such a historical anomaly.
Role players stepping up in the Finals is nothing new. Robert Horry made a career out of it. Steve Kerr hit big shots to help title teams in Chicago and San Antonio. Neither was ever a viable MVP candidate though. Finals MVP is a veritable who’s who among basketball greats. A look at the list of past winners is littered with Hall of Famers and soon-to-be Hall of Famers.
In fact, you have to go back to 1981 to find a Finals MVP who is not in the Hall of Fame despite being eligible for induction. Cedric Maxwell took home the honors for the Boston Celtics. Jo Jo White, in 1976, also with Boston, is the only other non-Hall of Famer to take home the award. And some would likely argue their candidacy.
Green’s career to date is nondescript with multiple D-League teams on his resume along with time spent overseas. He would undoubtedly become the most unexpected winner of the award in league history.
6. Kawhi Leonard’s too busy playing defense.
A Finals-record 16 made 3s in Game 3 stole the show, but the soft-spoken, second-year small forward from San Diego State has been a crucial component to the Spurs’ success so far in this series. His defense on James has been about as good as can be expected from anyone on the reigning league MVP. Because he’s struggled with his own shot (13-31), Leonard hasn’t received the attention of Green or Gary Neal. If there’s a defensive MVP, Leonard’s the frontrunner.
7. America loves an underdog
It’s no secret that most of the United States has embraced the Spurs in the series in the way that they typically embrace the team opposite the New York Yankees in the World Series. The Miami Heat draw the ire of many casual fans, for better or worse.
It’s hard to imagine anyone—outside of Heat fans, of course—who is unable to appreciate the Danny Green story. In reality, it’s statistically unlikely that Green can continue to shoot at this clip for the rest of the series. Common sense says even less likely that both the Spurs’ Big 3 and the Heat’s trio of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all will continue to put up subpar numbers. Smart money still favors a LeBron MVP if the Heat recover or a Duncan/Parker MVP if the Spurs hold on.
But that’s not nearly as fun. If Green was able to go from the D-League to the NBA Finals, who knows, maybe he can live this incredible dream for two more victories and become the unlikeliest of Finals MVPs.