TORONTO – Before each game, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse and his team play their available players' names on a white board and rate the night's rotation. Some games are more direct than others. Lately, as the Raptors have suffered from a long period of premature injury to key players, it has been an adventure.
Anyway, the nurse was looking at the picture Wednesday night, considering how he would use his three-and-Danny Danny Green wing when something occurred to him.
"I said," Our, "said Nurse," he's the only guy who's here every night. "
It is true. Wednesday's 99-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers was the 33rd game of the season in Toronto. It was Green's 33rd as well. And its 33rd start. No other Raptor can claim any of these achievements. Pascal Siakam played 32 matches, Serge Ibaka's played 31 and Jonas Valanciunas played with 30. If any Raptor will play every night from pole-in-pole, it will be Green.
It's hard, the NBA today. Difficult to stay healthy, difficult to avoid wasting time due to pestering or pesky it. It is difficult to absorb the physical toll, the trip, the back on the back, every three nights on the road and keep coming back for more. Last season, only 26 players appeared in 82 games, and only eight started all 82. And that may have been high. The year before, it was 17 and five. A year before that, 18 and six.
Green may not even get there – who knows? It's only December. But he's on the right track so far and that's pretty impressive considering how much he plays – his 30 minutes a night is the team's third – and the abuse he took.
The other night they even went to your eyes. It was the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Denver when Nuggets' Monte Nuggets guard attacked Green, who had just attacked an offensive rebound, and thrust one of his fingers into Raptor's right orbit.
The gouge left Green with an abrasion and forced him out of the game by a spell. But he returned only a few minutes later, running through the screens and playing defense with one eye closed. It was the second time this season that Green absorbed a nudge, which should be a bit disconcerting for a guy who underwent laser eye surgery three summers ago.
And that has to be a bit disconcerting to the Nurse and Co., considering that Green is the most consistent three-point threat in a Raptors team that urgently needs one. There is an argument to be said that the recent Toronto fights that have led the team to drop five out of eight by Wednesday night can be attributed in large part to a three-point shooting. Since the beginning of the month, the Raptors were taking 33.6% of the range, which was in third place in the league. And the high season of 34.8% in Toronto (18th in the NBA) was not much better.
And yet, there was a lone Raptor shooting over 40 percent in the year – Green. He arrived on Wednesday night, reaching 42.3% of his attempts while taking more than five triples a night, the team's second-highest rate after Kyle Lowry. Of course, if the Raptors wanted to hit three more, they needed more shots for Green.
It was a topic of discussion between the nurse and her staff on Wednesday morning. How, exactly, do they manage to look more green? The problem was that the teams were specifically taking Green away from the bow, helping other defenders fill their space. It's exactly the same strategy that the Raptors used against snipers on other teams.
"You saw us play in the Golden State. We were eyeing Klay [Thompson] and Steph [Curry,] and we were out of everyone. Trying to limit his shots and hopefully we can direct him where we wanted to target him, "Nurse said before the game on Wednesday. "So it's hard to force the feed a little when help is designed in a certain way. But I'd love to take some more pictures of him. I'm going to work on it tonight for a bit.
Turns out it was not so easy. Two quick fouls made Green's first round short because Nurse was forced to subdue him less than four minutes into one of his more serious players to face early problems.
Green remained on the bench until a few minutes later when the Raptors were losing by 13. He missed his first two kicks from far, but hit his third with about 90 seconds to play in the fourth. In the interval, the deficit was reduced to eight. Green was the only Raptor to finish the half with a positive rating. (The NBA leader netting at 5:00 p.m., arriving in the evening, Green's got in the habit of helping his team out of holes.)
Green's pass in the third quarter was not productive, as he missed both of the three he tried. But when he returned from the bench in the fourth, the Raptors quickly made a 6-0 run, punctuated by a soft green floater after he was run off the line.
But then, of course – of course! Green lumbered awkwardly under the Indiana basket and appeared to adjust his left knee. He spent a few minutes trying to get loose behind the scenes before heading to the locker room. Is this because of the green? Would it be the Raptors' most recent vital turn to fall?
No. A few minutes later, Green was back, chasing Victor Oladipo, running back and forth on the ground, forcing an eight-second violation in the defense zone at the last minute. His night ended 2 of 8 of the field, and 1 of 6 of three. It's not what the nurse had in mind when he thought of ways to free his sniper that morning. But a player like Green plays as much as he does for a reason – he finds ways to impact the game regardless of how his shots fall.
Moments after forcing the court violation, Green picked up a lost ball in his final kick and pitched Fred VanVleet for a three-pointer. Moments later, Green forced a ball by jumping into Oladipo. And moments after that, he won the jump – banged his knee and all – before hitting a pair of free throws to put Toronto in three with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Just one more night for Danny Green. Just your 33rd year.