Spurs' Danny Green, Gary Neal took long road to NBA Finals' center stage

SAN ANTONIO – With 5:43 remaining in this epic NBA Finals beat-down, Gregg Popovich decided to pull off his two pit bulls. The San Antonio Spurs' eventual 113-77 rout of the Miami Heat for a 2-1 series lead was, by that point, a mere formality. Might as well let them bask in the cheers as they sat and watched their work come to fruition.

So out came one unstoppable star, Danny Green, who was cut from the league three times and once scored a measly 40 points in an entire season. On Tuesday, Green's 27 points easily outpaced LeBron James' 15.

"No, never thought in a million years that would happen," Green said with a smile.

Then there was the other star, Gary Neal, who not only was never drafted coming out of college, but never even got a training camp invite. He figured the NBA was mostly a pipe dream until, after a stint in Europe, he received a long-shot offer to play on the Spurs' summer-league team in Las Vegas. He decided to combine a job tryout with his honeymoon.

"I had to kind of just smooth it over with my wife," Neal said, of ditching a week on the beach at Atlantis for an experience that wasn't exactly romantic.

"It was totally a business trip," he said. "Totally."

Neal scored 24 on Tuesday, enough to make all of South Texas love him.

Forget the Spurs' Big Three or the Heat's Big Three, this was about the Nearly Lost Two, a couple of shooters off the scrap heap who found a franchise that not only believed in them, but worked relentlessly to make them believe in themselves.

No one knows where this NBA Finals is going. LeBron is averaging just 16.7 points a game and seems determined for a breakout game. Tony Parker is set to undergo a MRI Wednesday to check a hamstring injury that could be trouble. We've had three games and only one has been close. There has been no discernable momentum between games.

This one, however, will be recalled for Green and Neal combining to shoot 13 of 19 from behind the 3-point line, simply burying the Heat into submission. Two unexpected role players stole the biggest stage in the sport and helped San Antonio establish an NBA Finals record with 16 three-pointers.

"What did you feed him?" the Spurs' Matt Bonner joked to Green's father, Danny Sr., and his grandmother, Carol Moore, as he passed them in the AT&T Center hallway.

"You want to come over for seconds?" Green Sr. laughed back.

It turns out there is no secret home cooking going on at the Green residence, just repeated family trips to Jim's, the old-school San Antonio diner chain. "We always just eat out," grandma said.

Taking nothing from Jim's current "country-fried pork chop" special, the truth is, this is what the Spurs do. They've managed to build and maintain this dynasty by keeping their three-man core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Parker and filling in with hidden talents around them.

Cleveland picked Green in the second round coming out of North Carolina, yet he did little as LeBron's teammate back in 2009-10. He eventually found his way to San Antonio, where the Cavs former general manager, Danny Ferry, had returned and still believed in him.

San Antonio cut Green twice itself before inviting him back a third time and having coach Gregg Popovich demand he find his confidence or get dumped again. Over the last couple seasons, Green found it, working his way into a starting role.

"He's a pretty confident young man right now," Popovich said.

Sure, but no one saw this coming.

Neal, meanwhile, was unwanted coming out of Towson, but showed promise playing in Italy. With an interest in getting back to the United States and starting a family, he received an invite to a Spurs minicamp, then the summer league team, and then he made the roster. It hasn't always been smooth, but here he was.

"Danny Green and Gary Neal, both of them," Duncan said. "It's an unbelievable story. To see where they [came] from. Gary came, played overseas and gets picked up. And Danny is with us a couple times, gets cut, sticks with it, and Pop stayed on him hard. He has developed into a great one for us."

That's the forever system here, one that demands better and better from these guys, yet also rewards improvement with increased responsibility. With a Big Three that lacks ego, Popovich is able to use parts of the season to run key plays for role players, to get them ready for that night when the stage has to be theirs.

It's how a team is built.

"I think it starts with Pop," Green Sr. said. "He grooms them. He gets them ready. And you can see he knows when to pull him back and when to set him loose.

"Danny is playing with such confidence," Green Sr. continued. "Usually the bigger the stage, the better he plays. That's always how he's been. Does it surprise me? Not really. I always expect him to do great things. But on this stage, it's so surreal. It's like a fantasy."

Or, for the Heat, a complete nightmare. It's one thing for Parker or Duncan to humiliate you in the Finals. It's another for this tandem to lead the way to the third-largest Finals margin of victory ever.

"Neal and Green lit us up pretty good tonight," Chris Bosh conceded.

Around the Spurs, though, this was part of the plan. All series, the stars have said someone else will have to step up and win a game or three. Tuesday was just the proof. The route here for guys such as Danny Green and Gary Neal weren't simple or glorious, but that's San Antonio basketball.

"I feel like everybody on this team has a story," Green said. "Pop and [general manager] R.C. Buford obviously do a great job of finding guys in weird places."

Like sitting on the bench together, a combined 51 points between them, as garbage time played out in a way no one could have possibly imagined.

NBA Finals coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Spurs dominate Game 3 despite lack of star power
Danny Green, Gary Neal lead Finals-record charge as Spurs crush impotent Heat
Gary Neal sums up Game 3 with buzzer-beating 3-pointer
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