This time last year, Patty Mills could scarcely get off Gregg Popovich's bench, logging just 13 minutes in two appearances in the San Antonio Spurs' seven-game loss to the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. With the two titans matching up again this summer, though, the Australian guard has gone from towel-waving amateur vocalist to top-choice backup ball-handler, key floor-spacing sharpshooter and defensive spark plug for Pop's squad.
After coming into the season in great shape — his head coach, of course, describes the effort in slightly more colorful terms — Mills set a career high in games and minutes played, averaging 10.2 points in 18.9 minutes per game as an injector of instant offense from deep (42.5 percent from 3-point land on just under four attempts in less than 19 minutes per contest) and a defensive pest capable of bodying up fast guards and getting under the skin of bigger scorers. He played a big role in San Antonio's explosive Game 4 win in Miami, scoring 14 points in 16 minutes and doing his best to disrupt the likes of Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade and the Heat's scuffling point guards. As we saw in Sunday's Game 5 back at AT&T Center, though, Mills was just getting started.
The Spurs entered the third quarter with a 47-40 lead after a huge second quarter led, in part, by the offensive exploits of Manu Ginobili. Mills came out of intermission and authored a frame that would make the Argentine proud, scoring 14 points on perfect 5-for-5 shooting, including a 4-for-4 mark from downtown, in just seven minutes of work to help San Antonio open up a very commanding 77-58 lead after three.
Mills took advantage of the Spurs' great spacing and his own status as a real danger from the short corner to break to the rim:
And he got into a hellacious rhythm from beyond the arc, stepping into open looks like this one created by big man Boris Diaw:
He was even stepping back to drop bombs:
The 25-year-old Mills has shown himself capable of being a star offensive performer on the Australian men's national basketball team, and this season, for the first time, he's proven to be a valuable role player on a team of consequence. On Sunday, with the eyes of the basketball-watching world squarely on him, he turned in perhaps his most impressive performance of the season, helping his team take a huge lead in what looks to be the deciding game of the 2014 NBA Finals. Not a bad time for a free-agent-to-be to step up, huh?
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