The Spurs' Gary Neal was formerly a walk-on at Towson University in Maryland.
But in collaborating for 51 points last night, the tandem rained 13 three-balls on the reigning NBA champion Heat. That offensive deluge resulted in a 113-77 whitewashing of the Miami Heat at San Antonio's AT&T Center - the third most lopsided score in the history of the NBA Finals.
Interviewed after the game, Neal, who scored 6 threes and 24 points in 25 minutes of playing time, emphasized the word "attack." He said that even as teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were drawing tighter coverage, they were able to effectively kick the ball back to himself, Green and Kawhi Leonard, who were getting open looks at threes. And Neal seemed pleased with the additional playing time he's had in the past two games, which he noted had allowed him to get into a rhythm he wasn't able to achieve in previous playoff rounds.
Green, at a post-game press conference, likewise noted that even though San Antonio's offense was clicking on all cylinders, that was cause for the Spurs to redouble their emphasis on defense.
Enter the Spurs' Leonard, who was assigned the ordinarily daunting task of defending Miami's LeBron James during much of the Finals. But with his long arms and fly-paper coverage, the former San Diego State star held the Heat's marquee player to only 15 points on 7 of 21 shooting (1 of 5 from behind the arc). Leonard's defense has also forced James into taking longer and often poorer shots from the perimeter, which has proved a real problem for the Heat. To quote a frustrated James after the game, "Well, I've just got to play better."
The Spurs' Leonard and Tim Duncan also hit the glass hard, grabbing a combined 26 of the team's 52 rebounds (Miami had 36 on the night) and overwhelmed the Heat on the offensive glass, 19-9. The tandem also collaborated for 26 points of offense and each had a double-double for the game. As a team, San Antonio forced 16 Heat turnovers, while reducing their own total to 12 (down from 16 in Game 2).
And on their way to outscoring the Heat by 30 points in the second half, the Spurs outpaced Miami in just about every statistical category: 20 fast break points to the Heat's 11; 40 points in the paint as opposed to Miami's 32, and 17 points off turnovers in contrast to Miami's 13.
For San Antonio, aside from having to anticipate Miami's adjustments for Game 4 on Thursday, they also are concerned as to whether Tony Parker, who had only 6 points in 27 minutes last night, can play through an apparent re-injury of his calf muscle.
But even were he to miss games as a result, teammates Neal and Green have demonstrated they are up to the challenge, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has apparently given them the "green" light in taking it on. According to Green, "I was trying to be active defensively. When I'm active defensively, it helps me stay in a rhythm offensively. And Pop [coach Gregg Popovich] does a great job of telling us to let it fly."