Tony Parker scored six points. Manu Ginobili scored seven. Tim Duncan totaled 12. And the Spurs not only beat the Heat, they routed an historically great squad, 113-77 Tuesday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Here’s how they did it. Danny Green scored 27 points and had a couple of magical defensive moments against LeBron James. Gary Neal scored 24 points. Kawhi Leonard had 14 points, 12 rebounds and game-long defensive success against LeBron, who finished with 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
Which is a great lesson for every NBA team. The world is full of quality ballplayers. There seems to be about 200 useful NBA players. You know, the good teams have eight or so, the bad teams about four.
But the truth is far different. Planet Earth produces hundreds, maybe even thousands, of guys capable of playing high-caliber NBA basketball. Teams just have to find them, nurture them and give them a chance. And it never hurts to be willing to look.
The Spurs found Leonard at San Diego State, a nondescript basketball school that had not so much as ever won an NCAA Tournament game before Leonard’s arrival. The Aztecs went to the 2011 Sweet 16 with Leonard, who then turned pro after his sophomore year and was taken by the Spurs, courtesy of a draft-night trade, with the 15th pick overall. Now the Spurs have an athletic wing who can guard and score on basketball’s brightest stage.
The Spurs found Neal in Italy. Neal, 28, started his college career at LaSalle, then transferred to Towson after a sexual assault charge, of which he later was acquitted. After Towson, Neal went undrafted and landed in Europe, playing in Turkey and Italy, eventually for Benetton Treviso. Neal caught on with the Spurs’ summer league team, shined in Las Vegas and was signed to a contract. All those Americans who go to Europe to continue their hoops careers? Neal is the patron saint.
Green, I’ve written about. The No. 4 option on a great college team, North Carolina 2009, Green was drafted in the second round by the Cavaliers and eventually was cut by Cleveland. The Spurs picked up Green, cut him twice and finally kept him. And Tuesday night, he was the best player on the court in a game that involved the world’s best player and the world’s best team.
So that’s the lesson. The Spurs did nothing magical to find such players. The Spurs did nothing revolutionary. They turned over rocks. They did their homework. They believed in young players. They focused on what players can do instead of what they can’t. They put them in position to succeed. They depend on them even in critical situations.
The Spurs didn’t invent any of those concepts. Other franchises, of all sports, have forged those roads long before the NBA was a gleam in San Antonio’s eye. But the Spurs have embraced such beliefs and actions.
Other teams can, too. That’s the gift the Spurs offer their NBA competitors today.