Raptors’ Green trying to shut out noise as he looks to shake slump

Struggling Raptors forward Danny Green jokes about everyone messaging him to "keep shooting and not to think about it," he says it's hard to stop thinking about it, when everyone keeps reminding him.

TORONTO — All day long, Danny Green keeps hearing the same things. He can’t escape it. On the basketball court, on the street, in his text messages — over and over and over again.

"Everybody I come across is like, ‘Keep shooting it’ Trust me, I’m going to keep shooting. ‘Don’t think about it, though!’ Yeah, I’m trying not to think about it. You’re not helping," Green said Monday at the Toronto Raptors‘ practice facility where the team began preparations for the Golden State Warriors and the NBA Finals.

"Everybody’s in my inbox. PSA — stop texting me, ‘don’t think about it.’ I know that."

It’s certainly not news to him and it’s probably not news to you that Green’s mired in a shooting slump.

Since the start of the second round, the Raptors guard has shot 29 per cent from three-point range, missing 41 of his 58 attempts over a 13-game stretch.

In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, he went 4-of-23. He missed all 9 of his attempts over the final three games of the series. He’s now shooting 31.4 per cent through 18 playoff games, a dramatic drop off from the 45.5 per cent he put up during the regular season.

And as his numbers have declined, his playing time’s followed.

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Green averaged 27.7 minutes per night during the regular season, and 31.1 through the first 15 games of the playoffs. But Raptors head coach Nick Nurse cut that down to 25 minutes in Game 4 of the Conference Finals, 15 minutes and 30 seconds in Game 5 and a little more than 14 minutes in Game 6. In the final two games of that series, Green saw only eight minutes and 30 seconds of second-half playing time combined.

That had to be the nadir, right? The four-day break between series the Raptors are currently enjoying before Thursday’s Game 1 has to be enough for him to turn the page, doesn’t it? Could things possibly get worse for a player as experienced, savvy and capable as Green?

"I think it’s a new series for Danny," said Kyle Lowry, who knows a thing or two about running hot and cold as a shooter in the playoffs.

"I think that series happened a certain way. It’s over with now. I don’t think that even matters. I don’t think anything that happened the last series matters besides us finding ways to win games. That’s what we take from that series. Danny will be fine. Game 1, he’ll be ready to go."

His track record certainly suggests so. It’s overwhelming, even beyond the fact he finished second in the NBA in three-point shooting this season. Since entering the league in 2009, Green’s 40.4 per cent regular-season mark ranks 26th among the 604 NBA players to attempt at least 100 three-pointers over that time. Over a decade-long sample, he’s a 95th percentile three-point shooter.

And coming into these playoffs, he was shooting 41.5 per cent over exactly 100 post-season games, the eighth-best mark of the 109 players to take at least 100 post-season threes over that span. By way of comparison, Warriors sniper Steph Curry ranked lower on that list at No. 13, hitting playoff threes at a 40.8 per cent clip.

Bafflingly, it’s the easiest shots that have challenged Green the most. During these playoffs, he’s shooting 33 per cent (23-of-69) on three-pointers classified as open or wide open by NBA.com. During the regular season, that number was 48 per cent (167-of-345). And just look at his numbers from the corners on these shot charts from the regular season (left) and the playoffs (right):

An uncontested corner three is one of the best shots in basketball. You take it every time. And Green hit his corner threes — contested or otherwise — more than half the time he took them during the regular season. So far in the playoffs, they just haven’t dropped.

"I got some clean looks. I just didn’t get the rhythm that I was hoping to get," Green said. "I’ve got to play through it, got to shoot through it. That’s the only way."

Of course, Green knows all this. Professional athletes will tell you their most ruthless critic is themselves — and Green’s no exception. He doesn’t enjoy having a cold shooting night during a mid-season game in January, let alone the Conference Finals. He’s spoken to coaches and teammates, he has considered his rhythms and routines, he has obsessed over the film. For as intense as the criticism gets at this time of year from fans and media, it never touches the level of scrutiny Green directs inward.

"There’s nobody more frustrated or more critical of themselves than the player that’s actually going through it," he said. "Everybody’s like, ‘Come on, Danny.’ I want to make shots — trust me. I’m trying. But at the same time, you’ve got to be positive, stick with it, and be confident in yourself. Confidence goes a long way in this league."

Green credited his teammates for stepping up and filling the void during his slump, singling out Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, who each shot tremendously against the Bucks. Powell’s history of prolific performances against Milwaukee is as remarkable as it is inexplicable, and in shooting 45.6 per cent from the field — including 42 per cent (13-of-31) from distance while averaging 23 minutes per game in the Conference Finals — he was a low-key indispensable factor to Toronto’s series victory.

Meanwhile, after suffering through his own extended offensive skid, VanVleet was high-key indispensable in the Conference Finals, shooting unconsciously from long range following the mid-series birth of his second child. He went 14-of-17 on three-pointers over the final three games, which remarkably only raised his post-season three-point rate to 38 per cent after he began the playoffs lost in an 8-of-41 slump over 15 games.

That VanVleet turned his fortunes around entirely and experienced such immediate, dramatic regression in his shooting has to be encouraging for Green. Or maybe it just puts more pressure on him. What are the odds VanVleet extends one of the greatest runs of playoff three-point shooting the NBA’s ever seen? (Since the post-season was expanded in 1984, Jeff Hornacek is the only other player to string together three consecutive playoff games with three three-pointers and at least a 77 per cent rate from distance)

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And here’s the thing about the Warriors — they’re lethal from beyond the arc. They’re third in regular-season three-point shooting at 38.5 per cent and first in the playoffs at 37. The Raptors will be the stiffest defensive test Golden State has faced thus far, but it might not matter. This post-season, the Warriors are hitting 33.5 per cent of their three-pointers deemed to be taken with tight or very tight coverage by NBA.com. That’s not far off Toronto’s 34.6 per cent rate on three-pointers classified as open or wide open. In other words, the Warriors roster some damn good shooters.

There is a very good chance that this series resembles, at times, a three-point track meet. The Warriors would certainly love that, and the Raptors won’t mind it as long as shots are falling.

It will need to be a collective effort. All eight players in Toronto’s playoff rotation are capable three-point shooters. And all eight will need to be both willing and successful if Toronto’s going to keep up with Golden State’s trademark runs.

Remember, in three of their four games against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers had leads of 17 points or higher. Each time, Golden State got hot from distance, went on a run and overcame it. It’s bound to happen in this series, as well. The Raptors will need to shoot better to weather the storm.

That can start with a resurgent Green, who for what it’s worth, has shot 52 per cent — fifty-two! — from three over his two NBA Finals appearances, drilling 36 of 69 attempts. Of course, that was years ago, in 2013 and ’14. Different team, different strategies, different opponents. And if Green’s going to come out of this funk, he’s going to need to leave the past in the past, starting with the six games he most recently played and everyone who’s filling his inbox with advice.

"We have new life now — we survived that series. I thank my teammates for helping me survive that series, because if we didn’t, I would be getting a lot of criticism — not just from myself," Green said.

"I’m not second guessing myself whenever I get a look. And more so than anything, I’ll try to let my defence fuel that side of the floor for me. Be active, try to get in passing lanes, get some rebounds, box out, get into guys. And then offensively just run and hopefully build my rhythm back that way.

"I’ve just got to keep shooting, don’t think about it, and try to block out the noise from the media, your inbox, and everybody else that tells you not to think about it."


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