Guard Gary Neal played at Towson State, then spent three years playing overseas before signing as a free agent with the Spurs in 2010. Now he's a major part of a San Antonio team that fashioned the NBA's best record this season and leads the Thunder 1-0 in the Western Conference Finals, after a 101-98 victory Sunday night.
How tough was it being in a tight game, a game you could actually lose, since it's been awhile?
Neal: “I wouldn't say it's been that long. I think we were down 24 or 26 in L.A. (vs. the Clippers). Even though that was the first or second quarter, that's still a large deficit. The leadership from the veterans is great. Those guys never get rattled. It kind of trickles down to the rest of the team and everybody continues to play with confidence.”
But you were up 2-0 in that game in Los Angeles. Is there more pressure when it's a series opener?
Neal: “If you look at it as pressure, you lose. You don't make the shots. You hesitate. That comes from guys that have been here and have pretty much done it all in their playoff career. They weren't rattled. There was no frustration, no attitude or nothing. Everybody stayed the course and we continued to play the way we've been playing all year. And we were able to make shots and make key defensive stops.
The Spurs now have won 19 straight. How historic is this winning streak?
Neal: “No, not really, because if it doesn't turn out the way we want it to turn out, with us winning the championship, nobody's going to talk about the streak or care about the streak. It kind of goes hand in hand. If we continue to win and continue to put ourselves in position to win a championship, then maybe after we complete our goals, people will talk about the streak.”