AT&T CENTER — Once again in the friendly confines of the AT&T Center, San Antonio Spurs guards Danny Green and Gary Neal were right at home in their comfort zones. A thrice-cut journeyman and an undrafted frr agent, Green and Neal are fitting locker room neighbors. Together, they occupy the corner of the room closest to the entrance, out of the way of everyone else.
On most nights during the regular season they side, side-by-side, swapping stories while the media scrums circle around their more heralded players. Jokes, life lessons, or just a moment from a recent game, the topics vary on any given night. Next year, provided Neal–a free agent–remains with the Spurs, they will have a story to trump any other tale they've shared before. Game 3 of the NBA Finals, one will remind the other, was the night that their little corner became the center of the basketball universe. It was the night two previously unknown players outscored the entire Miami Heat starting lineup, 51-43.
Each has their own humble basketball origins, cast aside by the NBA, only to be unearthed by the Spurs Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford as hidden gems.
"It's an unbelievable story, to see where they came from," Tim Duncan said. "Gary came, played overseas, and gets picked up from there. And Danny is with us a couple of times, gets cut, sticks with it, and Pop stayed on him hard. He has developed into a great one for us."
The Spurs entered Game 3 with Duncan,Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker struggling, having scored just 27 points combined on 10-of-33 shooting in a blowout loss. Afterwards, Ginobili proclaimed that the Spurs had no chance of beating the Heat if those three players committed a repeat performance. Purely in terms of scoring, the trio underperformed that 27-point output by two points, combining for just 25 points in Game 3. But that mattered little as the Spurs set an NBA Finals record with 16 three-pointers, Green getting 27 points on seven three-pointers, and Neal scoring 24 points on six three-pointers.
"It's a dream come true. Me and Danny both went through a lot of stuff together," Neal said after the game, basking in his moment. "We were the guys that showed up two hours before practice to start to get shots up and prove to the coaching staff that we belong."
How deep are the Spurs? If the Finals were to end after three games, the MVP would fall somewhere between Neal, Green, and Kawhi Leonard, who had 14 points, 12 rebounds, and four steals while holding LeBron James under 20 points for a third consecutive game.
"You need guys to step up," Green said. "Sometimes it comes from weird places."
On this Spurs team, it can come from anywhere, provided their star players set the foundations. Though Parker and Ginobili didn't score much, they put players like Neal and Green in position to succeed. In Game 3 the Spurs varied the pace and timing of their passes, making it harder for the Heat defense to get in sync with their rotations to anticipate and jump passing lanes.
"I told [Neal] if they keep trapping me you are going to get the ball and you are going to be able to get shots," Parker said. "I said we need a big game from you."
Neal shot 5-10 in the in the first half, helping the Spurs gain separation. And when the game got tight, it wasn't Parker or James or Duncan answering the call. It was Green blocking a James jumper, and Neal following that block with a three-pointer just before the half to extend to a 50-44 lead.
"I feel like everybody on this team has a story. Pop and R.C. obviously do a great job of finding guys in weird places," Green said. And in fact, they do.
From the bargain bin of the Development League to the most obscure locations in European basketball, Green and Neal arrived on this scene from the strangest of places. Now they reside in the corner of the Spurs locker room swapping stories, reminiscing about that time they put a Spurs team on their backs and stood toe-to-toe with the best the world had to offer