Jun 12, 2013, 12:57 AM EST
It seems Gregg Popovich can play any guard and get an elite performance in these NBA Finals.
Danny Green – cut by the Cavaliers and twice by the Spurs between stops in Erie, Reno, Austin and Slovenia – not long ago appeared like he had no NBA future. Gary Neal fit that profile the moment he sit foot on camps at Towson, one of the worst college basketball teams in the country, and remained on the edge of the radar during stops in Spain and Italy.
Yet, Green and Neal were hitting 3-pointers all over the court and leading the Spurs to a 113-77 win over the Heat in Game 3. Not only did Green (27 points on 7-of-9 3-point shooting) and Neal (24 points on 6-of-10 3-point shooting) lead the game in scoring, nobody else came within seven points of them. They were the best players on the floor by far.
Green, who made 5-of-5 3-pointers in Game 2, leads the Finals in points – ahead of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and everyone else. No other Spur besided Green has scored more than Neal.
Keep in mind, Green scored just 10.5 points per game this season, and Neal’s averaged even fewer at 9.5.
No two teammates had each scored 24 points in a Finals game with such a low combined scoring average since at least 1963, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com’s relevant records go, but this performance was revolutionary in more ways than one.
There’s an out-of-date phrase – “live by the 3, die by the 3” – that the Spurs have turned on its head. They set an NBA Finals record by making 16 3-pointers, but the only reason they accomplished that is having the guts to take 32 shots from beyond the arc. Popovich has figured out that 3-pointers present such high value, there’s really no undue risk in crafting a gameplan based on getting shots beyond the arc.
Not only does the plan work strategically – San Antonio’s offensive rating tonight was a staggering 125.1 – it excels psychologically.
Instead of worrying about getting pulled for missing 3-pointers, as they would have done while playing for the previous generation of coaches, Green and Neal engaged in the best individual battle of the Finals since LeBron James and Tony Parker were matched up late in Game 1. Into the fourth quarter, they went back and forth for the scoring lead.
Neal took a took a 14-5 lead at halftime thanks to his buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Green scored the next eight points between the two to get within 14-13. Neal stretched his lead to 24-13, and again Green answered, this time with 14 more points for a 27-24 win over Neal.
The Spurs were competing with each other, because the Heat couldn’t.
Green and Neal won’t always shoot this well, but they undoubtedly believe they can. At this point, all the Spurs should believe they’re perfectly positioned.
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