Miami Heat

Defensive minded Gerald Green still packs a needed scoring punch for Miami Heat

Gerald Green defends Kevin Durant during the Miami Heat’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, December 3, 2015 at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Gerald Green defends Kevin Durant during the Miami Heat’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, December 3, 2015 at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

The easiest way to bring out a bored or uninterested look from Gerald Green these days is to ask him about his offense.

It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy a good dunk or lighting up an opponent with a three-point explosion. It’s just that Green is so focused on defense now that he’s with the Heat that the former Slam Dunk champion doesn’t want to discuss anything else.

“Defense. Defense. Defense. I live and breathe defense right now,” Green said Monday after practice. “Offense just comes too easy for me.

“It always has, man. Confidence is everything in basketball. I just have a lot of confidence on that side, and now defensively I’m getting confidence.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra loves to hear Green talking that way. Green was never considered a defensive stalwart on any of his previous seven teams. But this season under Spoelstra’s encouragement, Green has become much more respected for it.

He’s coming off the bench on most nights and holding opponents — often the best scorers in the league — to 42.2 percent shooting, roughly 0.6 percent below their average.

“I’ve always felt I could play defense, but people used to always talk so bad about me defensively,” Green said. “This is the first team that honestly never talked crazy about my defense. It motivates me to go out there and want to do more.”

But defense, really, isn’t what Green contributes most to the Heat. It’s those moments he had Sunday on the other side of the floor — especially over the past six games — that’s paying the biggest dividends for Miami.

Particularly, it has been Green’s three-point shooting. He has averaged 15.7 points over his past six games and made 17 of 33 attempts from beyond the arc. The Heat (16-10) has gone 4-2 over that stretch.

“I think it’s so easy and tempting just to talk about his scoring. That’s not all what I’ve been talking to him about,” Spoelstra said before turning off his coach speak button and offering up a little truth.

“But obviously that scoring punch — that’s why we thought he was such an intriguing guy this summer. He can put points on the board very quickly.”

Green did Sunday. He went on a personal 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter and turned a 97-95 deficit to Portland into a 103-97 Heat lead. Miami never looked back.

“I love playing with Gerald,” said Dwyane Wade, who fed Green on the back-to-back threes he hit to break the tie. “He knows he’s got to keep moving, and I’ll find him. That second three was huge. It was tough. I don’t know how he made it, but it’s great playing with guys like that and just getting into more of a comfort zone knowing that when I penetrate with a guy on me and that the ball could come any moment, and he made two big ones.”

In an era when so many teams are have turned their focus to the three-point game, Miami remains one of six in the league still attempting fewer than 20 threes a game, one of seven making less than a third of them (32.7 percent), and one of five averaging less than seven made.

That’s not a great formula for success on nights when the defense doesn’t show up. But when Miami does make its threes — at least seven of them — it’s 10-1 this season. On Sunday, Miami matched a season-high with 12.

Green, a career 36.8 percent shooter from behind the arc, doesn’t only make the open threes, but the tough contested ones, too.

On Sunday, he broke a 97-all tie when he drained a corner three with Allen Crabbe in his face and the shot clock under three seconds. Then, Green hit another three to extend the Heat’s lead to six with the shot clock under a second and Damian Lillard draped all over him.

Spoelstra said Monday the Heat ranks in top five in the league in uncontested three-point attempts. If that’s the case, the fact Miami ranks 25th in the league in three-point shooting percentage, is troubling. So, having a shooter like Green around helps.

“If he makes two,” Spoelstra replied when asked how many shots it takes to get Green feeling like he’s in a rhythm. “I don’t know necessarily that he’s going to go on a run. I just know he’s going to play as if he’s on a run.”

“But we still want him to shoot and play in the context of team basketball. It’s not about him just going crazy and taking Heat check shots ... that’s not the message.”

Tuesday: Pistons at Heat

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790; WAXI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Heat leads 51-47.

Scouting report: The Pistons blew out Miami in Detroit 104-81 in their first meeting this season. … The Pistons will be without Jodie Meeks (foot) and Brandon Jennings (Achilles). … Miami will likely be minus forward Josh McRoberts (knee) and guard Tyler Johnson (shoulder).

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