Between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, there are anywhere from six to eight future Hall of Famers stepping on the court each night. LeBron James is the best player in the world. Tony Parker is the best playoff point guard since I'm not even sure who. Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward who ever lived. Dwyane Wade is a former Finals MVP and scoring champ. Manu Ginobili is the most accomplished international player ever. Chris Bosh is a former 20-10 guy. Gregg Popovich is approaching the Mount Rushmore of NBA coaches. Ray Allen is the league's three-point king.
All of them are champions.
So naturally, from night to night, the best players on the court figured to be James and Parker, Duncan and Wade, Ginobili and Bosh. Big three vs. big three. Surely each and every game at least one of them from each team would be the marquee player. That's just the way the NBA goes. Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal always show up and shine the brightest. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson always have the greatest impact on the game. Russell and Wilt always have an epic battle.
Then last night happened. Not only were LeBron and Parker and company far from the best players to take the floor in game 3 — no one on either team's big three even looked like they belonged on the same court with the four men who outshone everyone.
Now, these four guys weren't the best players on the court because they hit the most shots — although that certainly helped. No, they were improbably the best four players on the court because they played the hardest, played the smartest and had the biggest impact for their teams.
For starters, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green interchangeably took on the challenge of guarding the best player on the planet, and the two of them individually did as good as job as anyone has ever done on LeBron James. Combined with help defense by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio bigs, Leonard and Green made LeBron work for every inch of real estate and made his life a living hell. The King became clearly flustered quite early, as the Spurs refused to let him get to the rim. And when his teammates couldn't hit any shots — what up, Bosh? — LeBron was so tired from the work Leonard and Green were making him do just to get the ball that he put forth the worst Finals performance of his career. Both the team defense and the individual defense by Leonard and Green on James quite literally took the Heat completely out of their comfort zone on offense. Thus, the paltry 77 points for Miami and the silent 15 points for LeBron.
Then you take Gary Neal, who came in firing and never stopped, scoring 24 huge bench points on 9-17 from the floor and an excellent 6-10 from three. He was everything that Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade and the entire Miami bench were not, coming in confident, on fire and being a true difference maker.
When you combine Neal's sharpshooting with Danny Green's near perfection, it was lights out for Miami. Green continued his assault on the NBA Finals three-point shooting record book, going 7-9 from beyond and netting 27 points. Apparently giving LeBron a headache didn't affect his shooting legs in the least, as his defensive havoc, including two steals, two blocks and irritating the King, only led to more confidence on the offensive end.
Meanwhile Leonard, beyond his manning up of Bron, did yeoman's work everywhere else too, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and hounding the Heat with four steals. The duo of Leonard and Green are quickly becoming the most versatile and lethal shooter/defender wings in the NBA.
All three of those Spurs stood out more than anyone else in the entire game. The only player on the Heat who could even hold a candle to them was Mike Miller, a guy who was out of the rotation all season until desperation time against the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miller has matched Green in three-point prowess, going a perfect 5-for-5 from beyond last night for 15 points, and to be perfectly blunt, he looked like the only member of the Miami Heat who looked like he knew how to play basketball.
So in a world where LeBron reigns supreme; where Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili own the postseason; where Wade made his name and Pop staked his claim in the postseason, it was, somehow, someway, Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Mike Miller who were the best players on the court.
Sometimes sports don't make any sense, and that's what makes them so fucking awesome.