By Gary Neal’s standards, he’s having a down year.
The 6-4 guard for the San Antonio Spurs, who transferred from LaSalle to Towson where he finished his college career, hasn't been as efficient as he was in his first two seasons.
But Neal, 28, is among the many complementary pieces the Spurs need to perform if they are to win their fifth NBA championship.
The Spurs hosted the first of three home games vs. the Miami Heat on Tuesday night with the series tied. Neal responded by leading all scorers with 14 points in the first half that included making 4 of 6 three-pointers. He played 14 minutes.
San Antonio won 113-77 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Game 4 is Thursday (ABC, 9 p.m. ET).
"I’m just reading the close out, how my man’s guarding me, whether if I’m going to catch and shoot or drive," Neal told ABC at halftime. "I've been reading it pretty good and been making my shots."
Neal finished with 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting.
Slowed by plantar faciitis in his feet during the regular season, Neal shot a career low 41.2% from the field, including just 35.5% from three-point range. In Neal’s first two seasons, he shot 42% from three.
He still averaged 9.5 points per game in 22 minutes in the regular season, and he contributed 10 points in a 103-84 loss in Miami for Game 2. But Neal had three turnovers in that game and hasn't been a factor for much of the postseason.
Tuesday, Neal was electric. His three-pointer at the buzzer to signal halftime gave the Spurs a 50-44 lead. He had two field goals in the third quarter to spark his team to a much as a 21-point lead at that point.
"He’s a professional. He’s been doing a lot of 2-on-2, 3-on-3 (drills) for part of the season to get back in shape and to stay ready," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He made himself ready. He really helped us tonight, obviously."
Role players always perform better at home, particularly in the playoffs. Neal had played 22 minutes in each of the first two games of the Finals, scoring 17 total points and shooting 6-for-16.
LeBron James went on an eight-point run as the Heat cut the deficit to 78-63 entering the fourth quarter of Game 3. It was Neal who stepped up quickly on the Spurs' first possession.
With the shot clock winding down and being defended on a switch by the 6-10 Chris Anderson, Neal launched a three from at least a foot behind the arc. He drained it.
Neal dribbled around a screen by Tiago Splitter, and he hit another three on the next possession.
The Spurs were back on top by 23 and never were seriously threatened again.
His outburst shouldn't be a major surprise. Neal was among the top scorers in the nation at 25.3 points in his senior season at Towson in 2006-07. He bounced around Turkey, Spain and Italy for three years until landing in San Antonio.
He was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2010-11, becoming the second undrafted player in league history to receive that honor.
Spurs guard Danny Green got hot, too. He led all scorers with 27 points, making 9 of 15 shots. Green knocked down 7 of 9 three-pointers. Kawhi Leonard buried 2 of 3. Neal made 6 of 10 as the Spurs combined to set a Finals record for made threes (16-for-32).