Apologies to Gary Neal, but this was all part of the plan.
The San Antonio Spurs reserve guard scored 24 points last night in a historic 113 – 77 blow out of the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Before last night, Neal was relatively unknown, and by the time the game was over, he was a part of NBA lore. Perfect.
That’s just the way the Spurs want it. Let the world focus on the out-of-nowhere, spectacular shooter for the next two days. It doesn’t matter. Its all part of the San Antonio design. The Spurs organization is built not on Gary Neal, but on proverbial Gary Neals.
These are players who are ready and willing to do their jobs when asked. These are players who don’t care who gets the credit as long as the team gets the win. These are the Spurs. Gary Neal is a Spur.
And what makes these Spurs so hard to plan for, so hard to stop, is that on any given night, someone else on the roster will be Gary Neal. Heck, if it wasn’t for his All-American, Chapel Hill pedigree, Danny Green would’ve been the darling of last night’s game because no one on Miami’s coaching staff was prepping for 27 points from a second round draft pick. But only in an underdog story does Towson top North Carolina.
Its been this way since Gregg Popovich took over. He decided to draft and sign players not only their basketball ability but also on their ability to buy in.
The stories out of San Antonio are always the same, if Pop doesn’t think the guy has the right attitude, there is no way that guy will be there.
All the talent in the world? Doesn’t matter.
In San Antonio you do your job. You’re ready when called on. And you realize you’re part of something bigger. If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine, there’s the door. And if you’ll note while you’re leaving through that door, some guy named Gary Neal is busting through it. Never heard of him? You will.
As the Spurs destroyed the Heat in what was the 3rd largest victory in NBA Finals a total team effort was in effect. The ball movement, the defensive stands, the hustle of players diving on the floor for loose balls, falling out of bounds to keep a possession alive, these are the qualities of the Spurs at the their best.
They are team built on having everyone sell out for the same goal. Winning. Team over everything.
If that means the undrafted, former European league journeyman is the one who plays hero by reigning down three after three after three, than so be it. Let him be the hero. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker they know it doesn’t matter how they get there. Championships are sweet no matter who provides the sugar.
Across the hall, the Heat are team built on star power. Three of the best players in the league got together and decided they’d try and ride roughshod over the rest of the league.
The league took notice and more stars began to align, one by one, all over the NBA map. In league’s biggest and brightest markets, in Manhattan and Brooklyn and both sides of the Staples Center in Los Angeles it had been decided that indeed star power was the future. Individual greatness could conquer teams constructed of solidarity to the mission. Yet all of those cities are dark during basketball’s brightest month.
Meanwhile, in the small city of San Antonio, the Spurs stuck to the script. They are now just two wins away from their 5th championship in 15 years and last night their star player is a guy that most NBA fans wouldn’t notice if they were next to him at the grocery store.
So yes, the world will talk of Gary Neal today. There will be profiles on his past and discussions of how in the world so many other teams missed on a man who swung the tide in an NBA Finals game. Today, Gary Neal is king.
But inside the locker room in San Antonio, it doesn’t matter; this was all part of the plan.
Scott Christopher is a guest writer for Next Impulse Sports. Follow him @ScottC247