Given how often Danny Green has come up in big moments before in the NBA playoffs, there was an expectation and hope that even after playing (and shooting) poorly in the bubble so far, he would bounce back in Game 1 of first round when the Lakers took on the Trail Blazers.
That was not the case, however. Green shot 4-12 from the field overall against Portland, including only making two of his eight 3-point attempts. For a guy the Lakers signed to make threes, it was a disappointing result, and a continuation of a concerning trend. Including Game 1, Green has shot 25% from the distance in Orlando since the season resumed.
“Offensively we’ve got to get back to ourselves, find our rhythm, push the pace. (We have to) make our open shots,” Green said on Tuesday. “Myself included especially.”
Green noted that the Lakers were getting open shots, and the numbers back him up. As our own Alex Regla noted on Twitter, the vast majority of the Lakers’ threes against Portland were either open or wide-open looks.
So according to the league's tracking data, 27 of the Lakers' 35 threes last night were classified as either open or wide open. They converted only 2 of their 16 wide open chances.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) August 19, 2020
That just can't happen if they expect to win this series. pic.twitter.com/W9zDa58dOT
Green was a big part of the issue in converting them there, and it’s not a new one. In his first playoff game as a Laker, Green once again shot better on chances against coverage classified as “tight” (meaning a defender was within 2-4 feet) than he did on “open” and “wide-open” looks, according to NBA.com.
Part of that is that those tightly contested shots in this case were 2-pointers, but Green has shot worse (both overall and on 3-pointers) on open and wide-open looks than he has on contested ones all season. From my story on that stat last week:
It’s a continuation of a season-long trend for Green, who has taken more wide-open threes this year (137) than any other type, and has shot just 35.8% on such looks. Weirdly, his success has gone up the more tightly covered he is, as he’s shooting 37.2% with his defender within 4-6 feet, and 38.8% when his defender is 2-4 feet away.
So this is not a new problem, and the fact that it’s not going away is a little worrying. Even more concerning is that Green and his teammates may be starting to notice.
Late in the fourth quarter, it was hard not to catch LeBron James looking Green off for a wide-open three with just a minute left in the game, shown in the second clip in this video.
When James turns the corner against the defense and sees the double team arrive, Green is directly in front of him, as wide-open in the corner as a shooter could possibly be in the closing minutes of a playoff game. Look at this screengrab, and tell me where you think the pass is going to go.
Under any normal circumstance, that would be going to the guy who the Lakers are paying $15 million to this season in large part because he’s a career 39.5% shooter from distance in the postseason. Instead, one of the greatest passers in NBA history looked him off, and instead chose to sling the ball to Alex Caruso, a player who has shot 33.2% from three this year, and who was playing in his first playoff game.
No matter how you slice it, it’s pretty damning.
And if Green’s teammates are losing confidence in feeding him, it’s hard to blame them, because no matter how much he downplays his concern or talks about his struggles just meaning he’s due, it’s hard not to watch Green and come away with any takeaway other than that he’s getting in his own head.
At one point during the third quarter, he caught the ball wide-open from behind the arc. How open? This open:
Rather than stepping into a top-of-the-arc three, Green chose to pump fake and drive in for a contested floater:
To be as fair as possible to Green, maybe all of this is simply poor luck, and a matter of waiting for his shot to regress to the mean. Maybe it’s actually as he says, and he isn’t losing confidence. Maybe he really just thought that floater was a better look, or didn’t like the rhythm he caught the ball in, and maybe James looking away from him is a one-off.
But when you put it all together with how poorly he’s shot from behind the arc — and how he seems to shoot worse when given more time to think about it — it’s hard not to worry if Green is getting in his own head, and if this is the type of thing that’s going to turn around in time for the Lakers. The team simply can’t shoot 15.6% from distance and win games, and if it wasn’t the third time this month they’ve shot below 16% from three, it would be easier to buy that as bad luck. But there is clearly something weird going on here. They need all of their shooters to make more threes, but they especially need their highest-paid, ostensible three-and-D player to do so.
Green played fine on the defensive end of that equation against the Blazers in Game 1, but L.A. also desperately needs him to figure his shooting woes out, because someone has to make Portland pay for how much attention they’re throwing at James and Anthony Davis, or this offense just is going to struggle. After the game, Green mentioned needing to “do a better job staying out of foul trouble” so that he can stay in rhythm, but even he is having a hard time rationalizing what’s going on for the team, and himself.
“Down the stretch we’ve got to execute better, make some more open shots,” Green said. “You can’t hold a team to 100 points, way under what they normally score, and lose a game like that.”
“We’re not making any excuses here,” Green continued. “We just have to dig down and find it. We’re not worried about anybody else but ourselves. They handled their business, but we need to figure out what we need to do to not let us go down another game.”
And when listening to Green talk about what the Lakers need to do better, in the context of his struggles, it was hard not to hear it as mostly a critique of himself.
“It seems as if since we got in this bubble we haven’t been able to catch a rhythm,” Green said. “I know we’ll bounce back and we’ll play better.”
If they — and Green — don’t, the Lakers won’t be in the bubble much longer.