For all the long years of the Tobacco Road rivalry — the championships, the revenge games, the upsets, the classics — one thing that has always seemed to be missing was a true individual rivalry. Sure, there have been some particular animosities: Ferry and Reid, Brown and Heyman, Gerald Henderson and Hansbrough’s nose. However, it’s hard to pinpoint a proper one-on-one, position-based, personal duel that has defined the UNC-Duke rivalry.
Let’s be clear: that’s not Danny Green and JJ Redick. They only overlapped one year. When they did, one was a freshman role player and the other was a senior superstar. They don’t (to my knowledge) hate each other; but ever since their two meetings in 2006, their careers have followed interesting and, at times, very similar paths. For the second time, those paths have led them to a climactic Game 7...and to each other.
The first time Redick and Green squared off was in Chapel Hill in February of 2006. Green was part of UNC’s surprisingly speedy rebuild team following the ‘05 championship, and Redick was lighting up opposing defenses on his way to being named Co-National Player of the Year. The first game didn’t go too well:
UNC tried to stop Redick with Wes Miller and Bobby Frasor, with the occasional dose of Marcus Ginyard. It was a catastrophe, with Redick scoring 35 points, several of them daggers late in the game. But one month later, the Heels changed tactics: Ginyard was given the lion’s share of the coverage and Green was asked to spell him for much of his time on the court.
Redick was hounded into a miserable shooting night, going just 5-21 from the field and finishing with 18 points on his Senior Night. Green, in 16 minutes of play, scored 6 points, pulled down 6 rebounds, and added a block and a steal. He wasn’t the star, but he made the defensive play of the night:
We all remember Psycho T’s big three, but we might forget that right after that the Duke seniors made a furious comeback similar to the one UNC had made on Senior Night the previous year. A 13-point UNC lead shrank to 3 in the closing minutes and, with Cameron rocking, the Blue Devils had the ball.
Skip to 7:34 for the play:
Green, who had Redick initially on the play, switched out onto Sean Dockery, who was forced to try and create a play with UNC’s D keeping Redick from the rock. Green got all ball and UNC held on to win. It was one of the earliest indicators that Danny Green would go on to be a big time defender.
But even after becoming the winningest Tar Heel in program history and winning a National Championship, Green didn’t catch much attention entering the pros. He was taken by Cleveland with the 46th overall pick, played just 20 games in his rookie season, and was waived at the end of the year. He was then picked up by the Spurs, who cut him after two games, then re-signed him, then sent him down to the D-League. During the lockout he even signed a contract with KK Union Olimpija, a Slovenian team.
But finally in the 2011-12 season, Green began to carve out a role for himself in San Antonio, becoming the regular starter and go-to 3-and-D man. He nailed 27 threes in the 2013 Finals. He won the 2014 NBA Championship. He was named to the All-Defensive Team in 2016. When he was traded to the Raptors, his numbers and efficiency both went up; this past year he was second in the league in 3-point percentage. And earlier in the year, the Wall Street Journal described him as the “Most Valuable Role Player” in the league.
Redick didn’t quite have to claw the way Danny did to find his role in the NBA, but his journey hasn’t been all wine and roses either: The first few years of his career were wasted on a Magic team that had virtually no idea how to use him (watching him get turned into mincemeat guarding Kobe in the ‘09 Finals comes to mind). After Orlando, he had a difficult year in Milwaukee where he feuded with coaching and management and shot the ball horribly from deep. Unlike Danny, some of Redick’s struggles were self-inflicted but he faced them nonetheless.
But the next year, as a member of the Clippers, he found the right situation. As the backcourt mate of Chris Paul, he helped spread the floor for a strong Clipper squad that badly needed a shooter. It was there that he would square off with Green in their first Game 7 matchup.
The 2015 Clippers-Spurs series is one of the most evenly contested series in NBA history. Only a single win separated them in the regular season. Four games were won by the road team. Game 7 alone had 31 lead changes and 19 ties. Throughout that game, Green and Redick did battle: Green had a virtuoso performance, finishing with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, and 2 steals. Redick was solid, scoring 14 points, to go with 3 boards and 3 assists. They covered each other most of the game.
In the end, a limping Chris Paul had the last laugh:
Look closely at that final shot and it looks an awful lot like the play in Cameron: Green is guarding the driving ball handler and he tries to reach out and tie up the ball before Paul can get the shot up. But (newsflash) Chris Paul ain’t no Sean Dockery; he pulled up early and got free of Green, releasing the shot before a closing Tim Duncan could block it.
Now, four years later, Green and Redick square off again in a Game 7. The circumstances are different: Green’s a Raptor and Redick’s a Sixer. Their matchup has changed too: Redick has guarded Green most of the series, but Green has been put on either Jimmy Butler or Ben Simmons on defense, with Kyle Lowry checking Redick most of the time. Regardless, someone’s going to the Western Conference Finals. If it’s Green, it’d be for the fifth time. For Redick, it’d be the first.
I expect if the two ran into each other on the sidewalk they’d greet one another happily, but one way or another these guys keep bumping into each other. On Sunday Night, the latest chapter of their respective journeys will be written and will read the same. And for just that night, those of us on Tobacco Road can pretend it’s a rivalry renewed. It’s more fun that way.