Spurs role players explode as LeBron James struggles
JUN 12, 2013 2:21a ET
His teammate, LeBron James, had nine games that year of 40 or more points.
But here we are three years later. Green is stunningly outscoring James in the NBA Finals, including by a lopsided 27-15 margin Tuesday night at the AT&T Center.
“Never thought in a million years that would happen,’’ Green said after his San Antonio Spurs destroyed James’ Miami Heat 113-77 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Neither did anybody else in this galaxy.
As amazing as Green has been in these Finals, it’s been bewildering how mediocre James has been, especially Tuesday. While Green and fellow unheralded Spurs guard Gary Neal were busy combining for 13-of-19 shooting from 3-point range, James sleepwalked to 7-of-21 overall marksmanship. For the first time since Dec. 2, 2009, when James was with Cleveland, he didn’t shoot a free throw in the game.
“I’ve just got to play better,’’ James said. “I can’t have a performance like that and expect to win the game. I’ve got to shoot the ball better and I’ve got to make better decisions. ... I’m owning everything I did. I’ve got to do more. … It’s frustrating when you get smashed like that. I’m still sweating from the game (a half hour after the final buzzer). I’m not happy, I’m very upset about the game.’’
James better do something soon or Miami’s season will come to a crashing end. The odds are heavily against the Heat considering that, since the 2-3-2 format was instituted in 1985, 12 of the 13 teams that won Game 3 when a series was tied 1-1 have gone on to claim the title.
It’s hard to say what is more stunning. Is it James, a four-time MVP, shooting just 38.9 percent in the Finals and averaging just 16.7 points, 10 under his regular-season number? Or is it the likes of Green and Neal having their way with the Heat?
Green was 7 of 9 from 3-point range and Neal, who scored 24 points, was 6 of 10 as the Spurs set a Finals record for 3-pointers made by hitting 16 of 32. Green is averaging 18.7 points and shooting 16 of 23 from long range in the series and Neal is averaging 13.7 and is 9 of 18 on 3-pointers.
“It’s an unbelievable story,’’ Spurs forward Tim Duncan, a two-time MVP and four-time champion, said of Green and Neal stepping up on a Finals stage usually reserved for superstars. “To see where they come from. Gary came, played overseas and gets picked up from there. And Danny is with us a couple of times, gets cut, sticks with it.’’
Green was a second-round pick in 2009 who has been cut three times. Neal was undrafted in 2007.
To make the story even zanier, there was Green after the game evaluating why James is struggling. This is the guy who did chores for James during the 2009-10 season, when the King called him his “rook.’’
“He’s kind of stopped himself out there and we’re getting a little lucky,’’ said Green, sounding like Charles Barkley with his analysis. “It’s shocking (James didn’t attempt a free throw). I think that’s the reason he couldn’t get into the rhythm. He’s used to attacking the basket, getting to the line, and making free throws gets you into a rhythm as a scorer. I hope that he continues to miss shots and everybody else continues to miss shots.’’
James in the series is shooting barely better than the 35.6 percent he managed against the Spurs when his Cavaliers were swept in the 2007 Finals. He knows that won’t cut it as Miami prepares for Thursday's Game 4 at the AT&T Center.
“They’re going under my pick-and-rolls and daring me to shoot,’’ James said. “Anytime I get into the paint, they’re putting two bodies in front of me. In transition they’re getting bodies in front of me. They’re doing a good job. But I’ve got to be able to knock down shots. I’ve got to be better, it’s that simple. If I’m better, we’re better. I’m putting everything on my chest and my shoulders.’’
The Heat, though, were bad on both sides of the ball. Center Chris Bosh said they earned “an easy F.’’
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said several times, “We got what we deserved.’’ That included an offense in which the Heat got little besides Mike Miller shooting 5 of 5 from 3-point range for 15 points and a dreadful defense.
The Spurs shined from beyond the arc. Sure, they got into a rhythm, but Spoelstra said the effort just wasn’t there.
“If you’re not doing your job and doing it early and doing it with focus and discipline, guys get open,’’ Spoelstra said. “And that’s what happened.’’
After the score was tied 44-44 in the final minute of the first half, San Antonio outscored Miami 69-33 the rest of the game. The stretch included the Spurs making 11 3-pointers. Appropriately, Spoelstra called it a “barrage.’’
Nine of San Antonio’s last 10 3-pointers were made by Green and Neal. They outshined Miami’s Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as well as their own Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginboli. The only negative on the night for the Spurs was Parker suffering a possible hamstring injury and needing to have an MRI on Wednesday.
“It’s a dream come true,’’ Neal said of his performance. “Me and and Danny both went through a lot of stuff together. ... We were really able to play great. But we really feed off each other, our positive energy.’’
Neal is one of just two players in NBA history from Towson (Md.) University, the other being somebody named Kurk Lee. Neal played in Turkey, Spain and Italy before making the Spurs in 2010.
Green played at North Carolina, but was just the fourth-highest draft pick off his own team in 2009, when he went No. 46 to Cleveland. He ended up being waived by the Cavaliers after his rookie season and later was cut twice by the Spurs.
“I never thought I would be up here talking to you guys now,’’ Green said of being interviewed at the podium Tuesday along with Neal, something normally reserved for stars during the NBA Finals.
Adding to the craziness, James didn’t even go to the podium. That would be the same James who outscored Green 2,258 to 40 during the 2009-10 regular season.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson.