Green, Neal get it done for Spurs in Game 3

Green, Neal get it done for Spurs in Game 3
June 12, 2013, 10:00 am
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SAN ANTONIO — Danny Green was cut not once but twice by the San Antonio Spurs before finally sticking with them last season.

Gary Neal postponed his honeymoon in 2010 just so that he could just have a shot at being part of among the usual legion of summer-league hopefuls with aspirations to someday play in the NBA.

The two have taken different paths to being where they are now, but the journey was well worth it for them as well as for the Spurs, who now hold a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals over the Miami Heat in large part because of Green and Neal's efforts.

Green, who has been the best shooter in the Finals thus far, lit up the Heat for a career playoff-high 27 points which included seven threes.

Neal came off the bench and was just as lethal with a playoff career-high 24 points which included six threes that was part of a Spurs team that connected on an NBA Finals-record 16 threes in all.

"Those guys shot incredibly," said Spurs big man Tim Duncan. "Gave us breathing room when we needed it."

And with that breathing room, they choked the life out of Miami's chances of getting a rare road win in San Antonio.

"They kicked our butt pretty good," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade.

Green's emergence may be the biggest surprise of the postseason, especially when you consider how many times the Spurs cut him loose only to bring him back time after time.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich credits Green's college coach at North Carolina, Roy Williams, for being instrumental in Green's development.

"Coach Williams had a big impact on Danny's mental status, believing that he belonged," Popovich said. "Not getting down if things didn't go well, to continue to push and to work. And to Danny's credit, he's done that. He's a pretty confident young man right now."

And with good reason.

After three games, it's Green -- not Tim Duncan, not Tony Parker and not Manu Ginobili -- who leads the Spurs in scoring with an 18.7 points per game average.

"Luckily I've been open," said Green who has shot 69.6 percent on threes in The Finals. "I hit some shots. Some dropped for me. My teammates done a good job of finding me and encouraging me to shoot every time when I'm open. Pops does a good job telling us [to] let it fly."

But as much as Green's offense has been praised, it's his defense that has been surprisingly effective in this series.

While many may remember the buzzer-beating three-pointer that Neal hit to end the half, that shot was set up by Green blocking a shot attempt around the basket by LeBron James.

Green's all-around game should not come as a surprise since he was the first player in ACC history to amass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 three-pointers, 150 blocks and 150 steals.

But as much as Green's play was noteworthy, Neal's breakout game was just as important.

In the first two games, Neal had scored a total of 17 points before Tuesday's career game. Like Green, Neal's play taking center stage is as impressive as it is unexpected.

"As a professional, it's your job to stay ready," Neal said. "You never know when you're number is going to be called."

It's also hard to know when the unexpected will throw a promising basketball career into complete upheaval and uncertainty. Neal played two seasons at LaSalle where he averaged 18.6 points per game and was named the Atlantic 10's Rookie of the Year. However, he was kicked off the team prior to the 2004-2005 season because of a rape allegation levied against him by a University of New Haven women's basketball player who was working at LaSalle's camp.

Neal along with another ex-LaSalle teammate, were acquitted of the charges.

The Baltimore native transferred to nearby Towson State, but did not get a chance to play until he was cleared of the rape charges. He joined Towson as a walk-on but was rewarded with a scholarship for his senior season in which he averaged 25.3 points per game.

After getting passed over in the 2007 NBA draft, Neal would spend three years in Italy, Turkey and Spain all before getting his first real shot at making an NBA roster in 2010 when the Spurs invited him to participate on their summer league team.

But the summer league conflicted with his honeymoon.

"I had to kind of smooth it over with my wife," said Neal, who said they were planning to go to Atlantis, a vacation spot in the Bahamas. "She decided it would be a good thing if we went to Vegas instead, so I could make an NBA push."

And now Neal along with Green are doing their part in helping the Spurs push towards a fifth NBA title, their first since 2007.

"It's a dream come true," Neal said. "Me and Danny both went through a lot of stuff together. We were guys that showed up two hours before practice start to get up shots and to prove to the coaching staff that we belong, and we're going to do whatever we need to do to get minutes."