Mills’ journey to Finals got a boost from an early meeting with the Heat’s big three


VIDEO: The Starters: Spurs’ journey to The Finals

SAN ANTONIO – The first time I saw Patty Mills was in the summer of 2008. We were in Shanghai and his Australian national team was playing a pre-Olympic exhibition against Team USA, a roster that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

That summer together had an impact on the Big Three eventually getting together with the Miami Heat. It’s a big reason why they’re here in San Antonio for The Finals, trying to win their third straight championship. It’s also a reason why Mills and the Spurs are here too.

Playing without Andrew Bogut in that exhibition game, the Boomers spread the floor and allowed an unknown point guard, who had just completed his freshman season at St. Mary’s College in California, to go to work. Mills proceeded to dart through the U.S. defense, causing problems for some of the best players in the world. Against the likes of Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, this 19-year old was making a name for himself. The U.S. won the game, but it was its toughest test of a five-game exhibition slate. A couple weeks later, the two teams met again in the Olympic quarterfinals and Mills scored 20 points in just 28 minutes.

The U.S. men eliminated Australia in those quarterfinals, but the two countries met again in the women’s gold medal game, and both mens teams were there for support. The U.S. men, about 15 hours from playing their own gold medal game against Spain, were all business. The Australian men … not so much. To show his support, Mills was wearing an Australian women’s uniform. They’ve since changed to a more standard tank-and-shorts combo, but back then, the Opals wore a form-fitting, spandex, one-piece outfit. So it was … interesting … to see it worn by a guy.

Less than a year later, Mills was selected with the 55th pick in the 2009 Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. And here he is now, ready to make an impact on The Finals.

Mills played a total of 31 minutes in last year’s postseason. The only Finals games he played in were Games 2 and 3, both blowouts. This year, he’ll have a much larger role, especially if Tony Parker isn’t 100 percent.

It was after last year’s Finals that Mills realized what he needed to do to get that larger role.

“First and foremost,” Mills said Wednesday, “I had to earn the trust [of the Spurs’ coaches] and earn the right to play. For me, it started with my fitness. My strength is my speed and my quickness. And I thought that if I could get in the best shape of my life, without even talking about any basketball skills yet, everything would kind of fall into place.

“So I went right back to basics, and it was almost like a lifestyle change. I was really strict about what I did in the kitchen, in the gym, and in the weight room. And it really changed a lot of things. From then, I worked back up to eventually getting back on the basketball court and specific stuff there.”

With the Spurs’ second unit, Mills shares ball-handling responsibilities with Manu Ginobili, but he’s still a big factor that the Heat have to worry about. Along with that quickness comes a much-improved jumper. He’s a ball-handler that can pull up at any time and make you pay for going under a screen. And if he catches fire, he can change a game.

Mills is one of the reasons the Spurs are a better team than they were a year ago. He went from towel-waiver to impact player.

​”We wouldn’t be here without him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He was great off the bench for us this year and always gave us a good jolt of energy in several different ways.”

The Spurs wouldn’t be here without him and Mills wouldn’t be here without those two games against the U.S. in 2008. Had he not shown that he can hang with the best, he may have gone undrafted, and he may not have realized that his dream was a legitimate possibility.

“It was a massive learning experience for me,” Mills said Wednesday, “To get that experience at such a young age, it really enlightened me on how hard I needed to work to get there.

“It gave me the realization of ‘Hey, I think I can compete with them and I think I can play in the NBA. I just need to keep at it and keep working.’ That game gave me the self-belief that I can play in the NBA.”

19 Comments

  1. omz says:

    Im a Miami heat fan from australia and, well having watched the playoffs and most season games i worry about the spurs especially since our defence isnt where it should be and our rebounding numbers are way too low. I think that we can win, but it all depends on how good wade and bosh are going to be and whether or not they will be consistent. coz like last season spurs had ginnobli playing bad, parker a lil injured and they stretched us to game 7. The only i can see us winning it is if we finish it in 6, if we go to 7 games the spurs depth and duncan’s avenge will kill us

  2. baftba says:

    From up here in Rip City, good on you Patty and good luck!

  3. Leigh Mackay says:

    All your hard work paying off! Spurs all the way.

  4. Jay says:

    All the best to Patty Mills but im a HEAT fan through and through. It is awesome to see an aussie guy in the big show though.

    • Leo says:

      The Spurs has a team with a bunch of foreigners not American Players. Miami has a genuine American team with Lebron Wade and Bosh. They need to play good defense on Parker/Ginobli/Green and Duncan. Miami can beat them as they are young and talented and I have confidence in Miami to win their 3rd ring.

      • Mike says:

        Thank you for stating the obvious Leo. Yes, the majority of the Spurs were born outside of the United States. Yes, the Heat players were born inside the United States. What’s your point? In fact, don’t bother. I’ve had enough of segregation talk after the Donald Sterling rubbish.

  5. Kat says:

    Go Patty! Will have Patty’s jersey on while watching the game tomorrow :)

  6. Mad Pills says:

    He’s a kiwi

    • Haydz says:

      No, he’s Australian… Aboriginal Aussie. Great to see him on the world stage. Remember, this guy was the top scorer at the last Olympics… He can light up.
      P.S. Steven Adams (OKC) is from NZ

    • Mark says:

      Kiwi? Do you even know who he is? He is an indigenous Australian born and bred in Canberra

  7. patty thrills says:

    yeah patty!!!!!!! Australia is behind you brother!!!

  8. Writer says:

    Awful headline that truly had no real sense or connection with the article itself. No direct connection with Miami’s Big 3 at all. The headline would’ve even made you think that the Big 3 were recruiting him in the offseason. What a disappointing piece of journalism.

    It’s a slow news day anyway, given the long break before the Finals, thus the clickbaiting.

    • JBR says:

      Journalists don’t decide headlines, sub-editors do.

      So I think you mean it was a ‘disappointing pice of sub-editing’.

      Or maybe the disappointing thing is that you were expecting ANOTHER Miami story, and were deeply saddened when you didn’t get one.

  9. Ed says:

    Bring home the bacon Patty! All of OZ is behind you mate!!!

  10. Javier says:

    It’s always good to hear about rising up stories like this.

    In terms of how he matches up with us, I think Spo should put Toney Douglas on him, so Cole and Chalmers don’t tire out defending Parker. He can really ignite Spurs runs if we don’t deny him the 3 ball.

    Go Heat!!

  11. QLDR in SAN DIEGO says:

    AUSSIE…AUSSIE…AUSSIE!!! OI…OI…OI…!!!!

  12. Kimmy says:

    Gotta love Patty Mills.

  13. J-Man says:

    go the aussies