They had vanished at the worst time last year, Gary Neal and Danny Green going into the NBA’s version of witness protection as the San Antonio Spurs lost four straight to Oklahoma City after winning the first two games of the Western Conference finals.
Turns out that witness protection status was not irrevocable. Green scored 27 points, and Neal added 24 – a career playoff best — as the Spurs defeated Miami 113-77 Tuesday at AT&T Center to take a two games to one lead in the NBA Finals.
Game 4 is in San Antonio on Thursday. For what it’s worth, the Spurs have history on their side. Since the NBA went to a 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985, 14 finals series have started with each team winning one of the first two games. The winner of Game 3 has won 12 of 13 previous series.
Green and Neal have been useful role players for San Antonio the last two seasons, Neal longer than that. But Neal converted just 8 of 28 shots during those last four games against Oklahoma City, and Green made 4 of 15.
Neither has disappeared this year. Green, cut once by Cleveland and twice by the Spurs before finally earning some security last season, hit 7 of 9 3-pointers Tuesday, making four in the fourth quarter. Neal, once an undrafted free agent, made 6 of 10. Led by Green and Neal, the Spurs hit 16 of 32, setting an NBA Finals record for 3-pointers made.
“It was obviously huge for us,” said teammate Tim Duncan, who produced 12 points and 14 rebounds. “Those guys shot it incredibly and gave us the breathing room when we needed it.”
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra gave the Spurs credit while criticizing his players’ efficiency on defense.
“They have great shooters,” Spoelstra said. “If you are not doing your job, guys get open. We got what we deserved.”
The success by Green and Neal was welcome, and necessary, on a night when the Spurs’ Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for only 25 points.
Parker left the game late in the third quarter, but returned briefly. He has a sore hamstring, and will be evaluated Wednesday.
Of course, Miami’s own Big Three were nothing special either. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did better than the Spurs’ three stars, scoring 43 points. But James hit 7 of 21 shots and was only a factor briefly when he scored Miami’s last nine points of the third quarter.
Worse yet for Miami, guard Mario Chalmers missed all five of his shots after scoring 19 points in Game 2.
Only reserve Mike Miller produced for Miami, hitting all five of his 3-point attempts.
Though Miami was anemic on offense, scoring only 33 points in the second half, Spoelstra said the primary deficiency was defense.
“We are kidding ourselves if we point at the 77 points,” Spoelstra said. “That is a factor. You have to play at both ends. But they got into an incredible rhythm, and we were playing from behind from virtually the start.”