Patty Mills and the San Antonio Spurs ultimately fell short of their goal.
After progressing to face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs proved no match for the insanely talented Dubs. There were 28 tantalising minutes during game one where San Antonio looked capable of doing the thinkable. Kawhi Leonard was dominating, Mills was the starting point guard and the dream of a fourth straight Australian NBA champion was alive. Well, it was until Zaza Pachulia undercut Kawhi Leonard with the Bruce Bowen special.
San Antonio’s season slipped away three games later, as did Mills’ best NBA campaign and potentially, his time as a Spur.
We wrote back in April why this postseason run shaped as the biggest of Mills’ career. Fresh off his best NBA regular season, Mills entered the playoffs with more responsibilities than any previous season. With free agency lurking this July, the 2017 postseason offered a tremendous opportunity for the 28-year-old Australian to show off before the most important decision of his professional career.
Mills played in all 16 of San Antonio's playoff games, starting the final six, and averaged 26 minutes per contest. He finished the playoffs with splits of 10.3 points, 2.7 assists and 2.1 rebounds on 41% shooting from the field. While these numbers slipped during the conference finals, Mills was a vital part of this Spurs team.
His importance was reinforced during the conference semi-finals against Houston.
With Tony Parker unavailable due to injury and rookie Dejounte Murray ill-equipped for playoff basketball, Gregg Popovich lent on Mills like never before.
In game five against the Rockets, Mills played a playoff career high 43 minutes and arguably put forth the best postseason display of his career. Mills scored twenty points, including five three pointers, and for a brief moment it appeared he had opened the bank to beat Houston at the buzzer.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, Mills held onto the ball as the clock struck zero and we were deprived of a truly memorable moment. It all worked out in the end however, as San Antonio eked out a classic victory in overtime.
Just two nights later, Mills remained in the starting line-up and was instrumental during a series clinching victory as MVP candidate Leonard was sidelined through injury.
Mills played some of the best ball of his career during the regular season and the same was true during the playoffs.
Golden State was a challenge too great for Mills and the Spurs. The Dubs paid specific attention to curtailing Mills’ offensive impact and utilised their length to trouble a San Antonio team missing their best player.
While the series didn’t end with Mills being victorious, he certainly caught the attention of Warriors interim head coach Mike Brown, who was lavish in his praise.
“He can shoot from range, but the biggest thing that he does is he moves so well without the ball,” Brown said before game one of the conference finals.
“You can never relax on him.
“If he has the ball in his hands, you have to make sure you stay connected or he’s going to knock down the 3. If he gives the ball up and you take a breath, he’s like the Energizer bunny.
“The next thing you know, boom, he’s taking off and relocating behind the 3-point line, and it’s another made 3. That guy’s juice is second-to-none in this league, and that poses a huge threat with his ability to shoot with range.”
Mills now enters the offseason as a sought after free agent for the first time in his career. There should be no shortage of suitors for his services, and a pivotal career decision awaits.