OAKLAND – Toronto Raptors swingman Danny Green is a professional shooter, especially from deep. In his 10 seasons, Green has made 40.4 percent of his 3-point attempts. No less than 61 percent of the shots he has taken have been from behind that arc.
Legendary big man Shaquille O’Neal, on the other hand, played 19 seasons in the NBA and made just one 3-pointer in 22 attempts. That’s a success rate that looks like Green’s — if you move the decimal point: 0.45 percent.
In the playoffs, Green has been his deep-threat self, adding another 229 3-pointers with 40.2 percent accuracy. Shaq? Nope. In 216 games across 17 postseasons, the big man never put up a single 3-pointer.
So naturally, O’Neal was the perfect guy to advise Green Wednesday on the whys and wherefores of the long ball.
“He’s a pure shooter,” Green said, teasing, when the question was put to him.
Turns out Green and O’Neal crossed paths on the court at Oracle Arena in the minutes before the Raptors’ 123-109 victory in Game 3 of The Finals. O’Neal was working his broadcast gig. Green was eager to snap out of a shooting slump that had him at 33.8 percent in Toronto’s 20 playoff games till then (32.8 percent from the arc).
“Every time I see him, he’s giving me his pure shooting advice, because he was good at it,” Green said. “Just the fundamentals, the small things, telling me to be confident and just hold the follow-through. And obviously after a good shooting night, it’s easy to see that his advice has worked.”
O’Neal and Green were teammates on the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009-10, which was O’Neal’s penultimate NBA season. At the time, Green was the Cavs’ first-round pick and a little-used player on the team. Since then, Green has emerged as a fantastic 3-point shooter, shining in that role with the San Antonio Spurs from 2010-18.
In a postgame segment on NBA TV, O’Neal explained some of what he said to Green – who he called his “rookie” – before Game 3. In fact, fellow NBA TV analysts Chris Webber and Kenny Smith were ready to give O’Neal full credit for the Raptors’ win.
“What I saw about Danny when I was in Cleveland, he was a guy who didn’t get a lot of playing time but practiced hard,” O’Neal said in a pregame segment on NBA TV. “I told him I played with a lot of shooters. I’m not going to tell you how to mess with your shot because I’ve never been a shooter.”
O’Neal then talked of former shooters he played with or against – Dennis Scott, Jeff Turner, Peja Stojakovic, Rick Fox – who always held their shooting form after every shot, regardless of how they were shooting percentage-wise.
Then, O’Neal shared some of what his pregame chat with Green entailed.
“I just brought him over here because I saw him messing around in warm-ups,” O’Neal said. “I said ‘hey man, this is The Finals. Leave it and stop f-ing around. Get your game right.’ ”
If it wasn’t O’Neal’s pregame counsel, it might have been the message written on the white board in Toronto’s dressing room: “Let it rip.” The scribbler was unknown in the minutes soon after the game, but multiple Raptors took the advice to heart.
Guard Kyle Lowry hit five of his nine 3-pointers, Fred VanVleet made half of his six attempts and the Raptors collectively were 17-of-38 (44.7 percent), beating Golden State at the phase of the game the Warriors popularized. Toronto had trailed, 25-24, in 3-pointers through the first two games. But this night, the visitors outscored them from the arc by 15 points.
No one did more in that area than Green. All 10 of his shots came from behind the line, and he drained six of them. He got three of them on four attempts in the first quarter, helping Toronto to an early lead in their 36-point quarter.
Then Green hit three more late in the third quarter. The first two came on consecutive possessions after Golden State had closed to 83-75; quickly, the Raptors were up by 14 again. Finally, in a Toronto possession fraught with peril, a save by Kawhi Leonard turned into leaning three to beat the shot clock and make it 96-80.
“Danny’s buckets I think boosted our whole team’s confidence,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said, “because we’re kind of used to most of the year relying on those. When he banked a couple there and kind of kept it going, it was just a huge confidence boost all around.”
In the fourth quarter, Green missed his last two 3-point shots. But he knows he has a Big Shot Doctor he can always consult.
“Listen, this is The Finals and he hasn’t been playing well,” O’Neal said on NBA TV after Game 3. “We all know what he can do. When he was with the [San Antonio Spurs’] system, [Spurs] coach [Gregg] Popovich was me.
“I just want everybody to play at a high level. I saw him messing around and it kind of upset me. I pulled him to the side – he’s out there laughing and joking. When you’re shooting 20 percent, there ain’t no laughing and joking.”
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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