North Babylon’s Danny Green brings Spurs’ lunch pail

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Originally published: May 26, 2012 2:19 AM
Updated: May 26, 2012 5:01 PM
By AL IANNAZZONE  al.iannazzone@newsday.com

Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs plays

Danny Green is living out his dream with the San Antonio Spurs, not long after self-doubt had him questioning whether he would make it in the NBA.

The North Babylon native has bounced around since graduating from North Carolina in 2009, but he enjoyed a breakout season for the NBA’s best team and doesn’t want it to end just yet.

Green will start at shooting guard Sunday night when the Spurs, winners of 18 consecutive games dating to the regular season, open the Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s surreal for Green — and could be topped only by starting in the NBA Finals in two weeks.

“I’m living my dream right now,” Green said. “It would be one of my long-term goals accomplished sooner than I thought it would. A lot of my long-term goals have been accomplished this year, faster than I thought.

“Everything is coming so fast for me; it’s hard for me to let it sink in or believe it. I’m starting. I’m playing in the playoffs. I’m starting in the Western Conference finals.”

Green, 24, admits to pinching himself every now and again, and for different reasons. Sometimes he does it because he’s playing for Gregg Popovich and with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. (When he was growing up, Green said, he had a Duncan jersey.) Other times, it’s because his road here left Green thinking the NBA wasn’t in his future.

The Cavaliers drafted Green in the second round in 2009 and cut him before the start of the 2010-11 season. The Spurs picked him up and waived him two weeks later. He played for three D-League teams, and for Union Olimpija in Slovenia during the 2011 lockout.

“When I got cut from Cleveland, they weren’t one of the best teams in the NBA at the time, so I had some doubts,” Green said. “I didn’t think I was going to get back into the league. I wasn’t sure it was going to happen for me. When I was let go from here the first time, teams weren’t calling. I didn’t think it was going to ever happen then. I was home for two months and I didn’t know what was going on.”

Green might be the perfect embodiment of the Spurs. They’re a team that gets little publicity, is overlooked or underappreciated, and thrives through hard work, dedication and following the game plan.

Through his ups and downs, Green, who went to North Babylon High and graduated from St. Mary’s in Manhasset, believed he belonged in the NBA. His family gave him support and encouragement and he remained hungry and driven.

Even now, after establishing himself with San Antonio and showing he can knock down shots and defend multiple positions, Green won’t allow himself to lose that drive and believe he has arrived. He plans to continue to prove he belongs in the NBA, much the way he did when he stepped in for Ginobili after he broke his hand in January.

“I gained confidence and Pop’s trust and my coaching staff and my teammates that they trust and believe in me,” Green said. “They can count on me to be that guy that knocks down the shot when they need it or plays good defense when they need somebody to play good defense or make the little plays or winning plays that they need.”

Green started 38 regular-season games for the Spurs and averaged 9.1 points. In the playoffs, he’s averaging 10.4 points, including 12.3 in the Spurs’ sweep of the Clippers in the conference semifinals.

In Game 4 of that series, after Green’s free throw put the Spurs up by two in the closing seconds, he guarded Chris Paul. Green stayed in front of Paul and forced him into an off-balance jumper in the lane. It missed.

“I was nervous,” Green said. “I thought they were going to call a foul. Chris Paul is an All-Star player. I tried to make him take a tough shot and I knew Timmy had my backside help. I made him take a tough shot and Timmy got the rebound and they didn’t call the foul and we were heading on to the next series.”

In this series, Green will see time guarding Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, but he also could find himself defending All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Green gladly will be ready for and accept whatever Popovich asks of him as his special season continues.

“So many things that you dream of as a kid luckily are happening all for me in one year,” Green said. “Hopefully, it will continue to happen and the story doesn’t end right now.”

http://www.newsday.com/sports/basketball/north-babylon-s-danny-green-brings-spurs-lunch-pail-1.3742508