If there was one common topic at Monday's San Antonio Spurs media day, it was about their historical loss in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in June. From head coach Gregg Popovich all the way to the players, each shared their thoughts of where they presently were mentally and physically after coming up short of a 5th franchise championship.
It turns out it isn't just the current Spurs who are still thinking about the Finals loss, as former guard Gary Neal, now with the Milwaukee Bucks also discussed the Finals loss Wednesday at the Bucks' second game of training camp.
Via Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel.
Erasing the memories of that pivotal sixth game in Miami will not be easy for the fourth-year pro from Towson, a player expected to be a key member of the Bucks bench.
"I don't think I'll ever be able to get over that," Neal said. "Making it to the Finals, for some people they never get a chance to do that.
"You can never take that opportunity for granted and coming so close but falling a little bit short will always be something that sticks with me. It doesn't help it's always on ESPN or NBA TV, either."
One topic of discussion over the summer was whether or not Heat guard Ray Allen traveled on his epic 3-point make to tie the game and send the two teams into overtime in Game 6. According to Gardner, Neal felt the referee's did the best they could in not calling a travel in that situation and his team could have made the plays to prevent that situation from happening.
"It was a bang-bang play," Neal said. "The refs did the best they could do. They didn't call a travel and he made the shot, so you have to give him credit.
"There were three or four situations where we could have sealed the game and Ray Allen wouldn't have had a chance to tie it up. In the game of basketball there's a lot of ups and downs, and they were able to win a championship."
Going back to the Finals, Neal said after winning Game 5, the team had the mindset that they could win one of the final two games in Miami.
"We were expecting to get Game 6 or Game 7," Neal said.
As for Neal, he's now preparing for his first NBA season in a uniform color that isn't silver and black. He will have a larger role with the Bucks according to his new head coach Larry Drew and Drew is hoping all of Neal's poise and experience he learned in San Antonio will be translated into being a model of professionalism for the Bucks players.
"He's a huge piece to this puzzle that we've put together," Drew said. "Having spent the years in San Antonio, he was in a phenomenal program. He's played with two of the best players in the league in Tim Duncan and (Tony) Parker, and I think (Manu) Ginobili is in that mix as well.
"He's been with real professional guys and has developed good habits. That's something we talk about here. Gary has been in a program like that and now it has a chance to rub off on some of our guys.
Neal will see his former team in two months on December 11 when the Spurs visit Milwaukee. After, Neal will make his return to the Alamo City on January 19 when the Spurs host the Bucks.