San Antonio Spurs 118, Phoenix Suns 110: Gary Neal is more than just a shooter, poster
AT&T CENTER — Only 27 games into an NBA career whose origins are so obscure it could only play out in San Antonio, Gary Neal is primarily known for two things — getting dunked on by the Nuggets J.R. Smith, and shooting 3-pointers.
The first point is just a testament to how Neal buys into the San Antonio Spurs system, putting himself at risk of embarrassment in the name of playing good help defense. The second point Neal accomplishes to the tune of 37.6% from behind the 3-point line as a rookie.
When Gary Neal signed with the San Antonio Spurs over the summer, the scouting report on him screamed Roger Mason jr., a combo guard whose primary threat was as a spot-up shooter, but with just enough handle to be utilized in pick-and-roll situations in a pinch. The early returns show Neal to be much more than that, showing just enough creativity to score an NBA career-high 22 points in the Spurs 118-110 victory on a night when his outside shot (1-6 on three-pointers) abandoned him.
While a great box score from players like Tim Duncan (20 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks) are to be expected — especially against a frontcourt whose porous defense does more wonders for an aging body than the Phoenix Suns vaunted training staff — Neal is just another in a long line of Spurs role players to come from nowhere and make valuable contributions.
“We don’t win this game without Gary Neal playing for us,” San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Timmy being as solid as he was in the third quarter, and Gary playing the way he was, I thought was really important.”
Neal struggled to hit open looks from behind the 3-point line tonight, but made up for it by getting to the free throw line for eight attempts (making seven). More than just the typical Popovich system spot-up shooter, Gary Neal displays just enough change of pace/direction creativity off the bounce to generate his own shot — which typically are released in the form of Tony Parker or Steve Nash-like floaters and flip shots once in the paint.
While this skill set makes him an ideal pairing with backup point guard George Hill — who for all his strengths has yet to show that level of creativity — last night Neal showed he can help carry the bench in place of an injured Hill, providing offense in a variety of ways:
- In the closing minutes of the first quarter Neal reads a Steve Nash pick-and-pop with Channing Frye, shooting through the passing lane from the weak side for a steal and fast break layup.
- Early in the second quarter with the defense closing out hard on Gary Neal in the corner, scrambling to recover from a Ginobili-led pick-and-roll, Neal shows a simple ball fake and drives baseline for a floater.
- Neal curls off a screen near the free throw line, receiving the pass and taking one dribble before pulling up for a half-jumper/floater over the help defender.
- Isolated on a quality defender in Jared Dudley, Neal drives right at him going to his right from near the top of the key for a layup and foul, converting the three-point play.
- In the third quarter Neal steps behind a Tim Duncan pick and misses a midrange jumper off the dribble, but Duncan rebounds and Neal has the presence of mind to step behind that baseline three-point line to present himself for his lone 3-point make on the night.
- Shortly after hitting the three, Neal runs to the baseline corner with the Suns inexplicably switching on an off-ball McDyess screen for him, leaving Robin Lopez on Neal in the corner. After a Quinn-McDyess pick-and-roll, Neal receives a pass and drives past a scrambling Lopez, side-stepping the help defense (Dragic) for a layup and converted free throw attempt.
- Neal is gifted an errant Nash pass trying to hit a cutting Childress on a pick and roll, Neal is fouled with the Suns in the penalty, hits both free throws.
- Fouled by Grant Hill as he secures a defensive rebound, makes 2-2 from the line.
- Gary Neal receives a pass from Tim Duncan on a drive and kick from the post, drives past a hard closeout on the wing for a floater near the elbow.
- Neal hits one of two free throws in the last minute to help ice the game.
An underrated part of the Spurs improvement this season has been the additions/improvements at the end of the Spurs rotation. After a season getting less than stellar contributions from rotation mainstays Keith Bogans and Roger Mason jr., replacing their production from lastÂ year with just replacement level players would have improved the Spurs quite a bit. Gary Neal, obviously, appears to be going above and beyond that.