Neal Saves Spurs' Season


Age is defined as “the particular period of life at which a person becomes naturally or conventionally qualified or disqualified for anything.”D. Clarke Evans

Tonight in San Antonio, age was mentioned a few times from the beginning to the end as the Spurs forced a game six with a 110-103 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Age keeps one from overreacting.” Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before the game. His Spurs came into the evening on the brink of elimination.

Insert a 26-year-old rookie sitting in the locker room 45-minutes before a pivotal game five. Manu Ginobili was stretching and watching film. Steve Novak and Danny Green were joking in their corner locker area and there sat a very quiet, determined rookie. He had a special demeanor as opposed to the rest of the players in the locker room.

Little did Gary Neal know, he would be called upon to save the Spurs’ season three hours from then?

The 35-year old veteran Tim Duncan would open the game by scoring 11-points and helping the Spurs spark a 9-0 run with 1:13 remaining in the first quarter. His Spurs led 15 to 12 early.

From there, 33-year-old Manu Ginobili would score eight points and help the Spurs open the second quarter with a 31 to 18 lead four minutes into the second quarter.

With 2:37 remaining in the half, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley would score his twelfth point and his team got within six points of the Spurs (41-35).

When the halftime buzzer sounded, Ginobili led the Spurs with 17 points as they held a 50 to 42 lead. The Spurs’ age through one half helped them hold the lead, then the second half began and that edge was lost.

After slowly chiseling at the Spurs’ lead through the third quarter, the Grizzlies took the lead 64 to 63 with a little less than three minutes remaining.

By the end of the third quarter, the Spurs trailed 68 to 65 with one quarter potentially left in their season. The youthful Grizzlies defense held the Spurs to just 15-points in the third.

George Hill is one of the youthful players on the Spurs’ squad. He helped the Spurs tie the game at 78 with 7:21 remaining in the game.

The Grizzlies were able to hold the lead all the way into the final minute. With 37.9 seconds remaining, George Hill cut the Grizzlies lead 91 to 90.

“He was aggressive at the rim,” Popovich said of Hill after the game, “He played good “D” and that’s what we need him to do if we’re going to be successful in this series.”

The drama of the game continued as Zach Randolph hit a clutch fade away jumper to give the Grizzlies a 93-90 lead with just 13.8 seconds left in the game.

The Grizzlies would continue to hold the lead at 95 to 92. Then Ginobili made a three pointer from the left corner with 2.2 seconds remaining. The AT&T Center erupted with emotion. Their team had tied the game, but a few inches would quiet their cheers.

After the referees watched video replay of Ginobili’s three pointer, it was revealed he stepped on the line so the basket was changed to a two pointer. There sat the Spurs, down 95 to 94 with just 2.2 seconds left in their season and Memphis in control of the ball.

The Spurs would send Randolph to the line as he sunk both free throws. The Spurs were down three points (97-94) with 1.7 seconds remaining in their season.

The Spurs drew up a play for undrafted rookie Gary Neal to take the season saving/ending shot.

After the game Ginobili commented on the final play for Gary Neal.

“If you see the whole roster, you probably won’t expect the undrafted rookie to take the shot to save us.” Ginobili said, “But he earned it.”

Neal received the pass, got a screen from Duncan and sank a 25 foot three pointer to save the Spurs’ season and send the game into overtime.

“I had good legs going into it. It felt good,” Neal said after the game, “I followed through and it went in.”

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would take over in overtime as they closed out the game by Parker hitting critical jump shots and Ginobili sinking clutch free throws.

The Grizzlies know they are more youthful and athletic than the Spurs, but they still hold the highest respect for the number one seed.

“However we have to get it,” said Tony Allen after the game, “it’s going to take everybody and everyone focusing to fight against the former champs.”

Game six will tip off in Memphis on Friday, what does Manu Ginobili feel is the key to bringing the series back to San Antonio?

“We just have to use our experience,” said Ginobili after the game, “that age that everyone is talking about, we have to use it.”

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Paul is an editor, writer and content manager for (@ProjectSpurs) and (@ATLeague_NBA). Paul is also the host of the Spurscast (@TheSpurscast). Paul has been a credentialed media member covering the San Antonio Spurs and NBA since 2011. Paul has been featured on numerous radio, tv, online and podcast shows.