San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has heaped praise on his Australian point guard Patty Mills on the eve of the NBA finals series.
Popovich said if it wasn’t for Mills the Spurs would not have made it back to the finals for a chance to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss to LeBron James’ all-conquering Miami Heat.
“We wouldn’t be here without him, I know that,” said Popovich, the NBA coach of the year, in San Antonio on Wednesday.
“He was great off the bench for us this year and always gave us a good jolt of energy in several different ways, so he’s been a significant part in our success so far.”
The first of the best-of-seven game NBA finals with the Heat begins in San Antonio on Thursday (Friday AEST).
Mills, who has played a much bigger role from the bench this season, may be required to play big minutes with Spurs’ starting point guard Tony Parker struggling with an ankle injury.
Parker sat out the second half of the Western Conference finals-clinching victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday and has rested since, casting doubt over his role in the opener against the Heat, who are chasing a third successive title.
The Spurs have been haunted all season by last year’s finals loss to the Heat.
They were up 3-2 in the series, with just one more victory needed to claim the NBA championship but, despite being up by five points with just 20 seconds left, James and Heat sharpshooter Ray Allen hit three pointers to steal game six.
In the deciding game seven Spurs veteran big man Tim Duncan missed a shot and tip in under the basket in the final minute that would have tied the game, handing the Heat their second straight title.
If the Spurs conquer the Heat this year it will be a milestone in Australian sporting history with Mills and fellow Boomer Aron Baynes both claiming NBA championship rings.
“We all feel like something was taken from us last year so we want to go out there and do what we need to do to close out in four games,” Queensland-raised forward Baynes said.