SAN ANTONIO (AP) – The NBA Finals opened as such a juicy matchup of A-list stars.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the defending champion Miami Heat against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for the old guard San Antonio Spurs making one last run at one more championship.
Big 3 vs. Big 3. Winner take all.
Once the series actually started, a group of D-listers crashed the party.
Gary Neal and Danny Green combined for 51 points and 13 3-pointers in San Antonio’s Game 3 victory over Miami on Tuesday night, carrying the Spurs to a 2-1 lead in a best-of-seven series that has been controlled by no-names, not big names.
“We don’t expect a performance like this from those kind of guys but they were great,” Duncan said after San Antonio routed Miami 113-77. “They did it. They found their spots and knocked them out.”
Been that way all series. On both sides.
Green, who was twice cut by San Antonio and spent a summer in Slovenia, may be the early leader for Finals MVP after scoring 27 points in Game 3. He also hit four big 3-pointers in the Spurs’ Game 1 victory in Miami and was a perfect 6 for 6 from long range in Game 2, outshining the four-time MVP James every step of the way.
“Never thought in a million years that would happen,” Green said.
Neal had to go overseas, as well, and even delayed his honeymoon just to get a chance to play on the Spurs’ summer league team a few Julys ago. On Tuesday night, his big 3-pointers at the end of the first half and the start of the fourth quarter buried the Heat.
Those two have teamed with Kawhi Leonard, a lottery pick so soft-spoken that teammates started to wonder if he ever talked at all, to give the Spurs a Little 3 that has stepped up and taken over while their more famous teammates have been underwhelming.
Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have been the identity of the Spurs for years, teaming for three championships in five years in the middle of the last decade. But they combined to shoot 10 for 33 in their Game 2 thumping in Miami. In Game 3, Duncan had a solid 12 points and 14 rebounds but Ginobili had just seven points and a bad hamstring limited Parker to six.
Leonard added 14 points, 12 rebounds and four steals to pick up the slack.
“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 started to get shots up and to prove to the coaching staff that we belong and we’re going to do whatever we need to get minutes.”
It’s been the same way for the Heat, who expect so much from James, Wade and Bosh, the celebrated threesome that united in Miami three years ago to chase not one, not two, not three titles.
But all three have posted numbers far below their career averages in these finals. James has his three lowest scoring outputs of the postseason in the first three games of the finals, including a 15-point, 7-for-21 stinker in Game 3, and is scoring just 16.7 points per game. Wade has gotten off to fast starts, only to fade as the game wears on and in the last two games Bosh has posted two of the quietest double-doubles you’ll ever see.
“I think if you look at every series in the past in basketball, the role players are going to have big series, even if the best players out there, the superstars and everything, are really getting their regular numbers,” Bosh said. “You can easily have role players that are doing what they’re supposed to do.”
In their place, it’s been Mario Chalmers, who scored 19 points in Game 2 and was the instigator in a game-clinching 30-5 run that evened the series. It’s also been Mike Miller, a banged-up journeyman who was barely playing when the finals began. He is 9 for 10 on 3-pointers this series, and was the only Heat player who showed up for Game 3 with 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting from 3.
“You can’t just focus on three people or on one person,” Chalmers said. “You’ve got to focus on the entire five that’s out there.”
For whatever reason, the stars just haven’t been playing like stars in these finals.
“It’s a difficult feel to get with the rhythm of this series,” Bosh said. “It’s been a very odd series so far. I’m sure it’s going to continue to be just as crazy as the last six days have been.”