Gary Neal’s last second shot: an examination of a moment


To put it in a simple yet clichéd way, it’s difficult to know where to begin when discussing Gary Neal’s last second shot to send Wednesday night’s game into overtime.

There’s obviously the tactical elements which went into creating the shot: George Hill cuts from the top of the key to the near corner. Tim Duncan curls around Antonio McDyess’s screen to set one for Neal, who catches the ball a few feet beyond the 3-point line, reverses course, dribbles once and rises into his shot.

There’s the mechanical element: Of all the Spurs 3-point shooters — Manu Ginobili, Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson, George Hill — Gary Neal’s mechanics are best suited for taking a shot of decent quality under a reasonable amount of defensive pressure. Neal rises up into his shot, has a high release point, and maintains his shooting motion whether drifting left, right, forward or back.

There’s the psychological element: Gary Neal is a rookie, an undrafted rookie. He made his way from an unknown summer league standout into a reliable rotation player, and even onto some Rookie of the Year ballots. Yet, despite his relative lack of notoriety, he managed to summon a steely confidence that many people lack. He was asked to extend the season, a season that, no matter how it ends, will conclude with a wave of emotion the size of which I have not endured since David Robinson retired.

There is, of course, the personal element: I was at 200 Fifth, a nightmarish bar in Brooklyn in which, from any given seat in the house, two dozens TVs are visible. I was sitting alone, with a single sip of ale swirling at the bottom of my pint glass, waiting patiently for the game to come to its excruciating end. Just moments before the bar had erupted as Ginobili’s two-pointer dropped through the net, but I did not budge: My eyes were on his feet, and I had no doubts as to how the rest of the game would play out.

A few minutes later, my downtrodden certainty had been shattered, and I stood at the center of the bar, yelling and high-fiving my fellow patrons, none of whom were Spurs fans but all of whom were humored by my sudden elation.

And then there is the narrative element: The story of Gary Neal’s last second shot has yet to be written. If the Spurs go on to win the series, which I still don’t believe they will, Neal’s shot may stand with the Memorial Day Miracle as one of the greatest ever made by a member of the franchise. If they win the title — a possibility I consider wildly unlikely, even if the Spurs were to win the series — it will. Full stop.

However, if they don’t do either, most people will forget this shot. It may make it’s way into an NBA promotional reel over the next couple of seasons, but in a few years general NBA fans will struggle to recall the details: Which game of the series was it? How many seconds were left? Was Robert Horry still on that team?

But, if you’re reading this, you most likely won’t be one of those people, and neither will I. Because, the truth is, no team — no iteration of a team — has meant more to me than the Tim Duncan-era Spurs. The Spurs won their first title the summer before my freshman year of high school. A few days after graduating from college, I pulled into my parents’ driveway in Austin, Texas, and later that evening the Spurs won their fourth title. Their championship window has coincided with the most formative years of my life. When the Spurs complete their playoff run this season, that window will be closed.

Eventually, most everyone will frame this in terms of what happens on Friday, or any games that may come after that. But for me, the moment is a story unto itself. Although playoff euphoria is often bogged down by the relentless teleology of titles, sometimes moments transcend that, and don’t rely on future success to validate their notoriety. For me, this is one of those moments. It extended not just a game, or a season, but my love affair with a team. And nothing that happens now will make me ungrateful for having been given that.

  • Junierizzle

    This is probably the best piece ever written on this blog.

  • Clint

    These articles – the ones that teeter on the brink of nostalgia, as we’re getting ever closer to saying goodbye to the Golden Era of the Spurs – are making it hard for me to avoid tearing up watching the Spurs play. And especially to watch that shot by Neal. For Grizzlies fans, it’s a shot that took away their beautiful upset on the home floor of the Spurs. But for us, it’s like the last few fireworks of a fourth of July spectacular – we know it’s coming to an end, we can tell, but then one of these bad boys bursts and for a brief moment everything lights up again like it’s 2005 and the AT&T Center has been on its feet for the entire fourth quarter of Game 7. It hurts knowing our days are numbered, but the fact that this team refused to die – for at least one more game – is a pretty fitting reminder of the glory days. And maybe they’ll win Game 6, and bring it all back home once more for a Game 7, and who knows – maybe the basketball gods smile upon the Spurs enough to see us fill up the AT&T Center for another Game 1 of a fresh series, and we have one more go at the whole thing. It’s unlikely, sure; but that’s been the beautiful thing about this decade long run.

  • Finnobili

    you know how when you wake up the first morning after you’ve been dumped and you feel horrible? that’s how i felt after the spurs went down 1-3, knowing that TD’s spurs’ place in my formative years are ending. and so unceremoniously! but after the game last night, i’m happy and proud to be a fan of a team that, if they’re goin down, they’re going down swingin. see ya in memphis (and hopefully san antonio after that).

  • NYC


    Whoa, WTH?! You’ve been in New York this whole time? Why are you leaving me to watch these games all by myself??

    Anyone else here in NY as well? Come on, guys, wouldn’t you rather watch the closing of the Tim Duncan era, if that is what it must be, with a fellow fan than in pitiful silence, alone? I for one am sick of being the only Spurs fan in a 5 mile radius, begging bartenders to let me have just one tiny screen in the corner. Let’s watch the next game together! Where are you guys hanging out?

  • Bry

    I hear you, NYC. Even if they know the Spurs, they don’t like them because “they play boring basketball” (even with the top offense in the league). Anybody happen to be in Krakow, Poland? It’s easy to get the game online. Unfortunately, they often start around 2:30am. It’s amazing how few people seem to recognize that the greatest power forward to ever play may well be suiting up for the last time. What the hell is wrong with the national media!?

  • gus

    great post. Neal had made a huge corner 3 pointer early in the game, beating the 24 clock. Ginobili explained very well the rationale of the play designed by Pop.

  • Paradox

    so Why did Neal sit out the whole OT?

  • Anonymous

    “If the Spurs go on to win the series, which I still don’t believe they will,”

    That’s as far as I got in readnig this column, where is the faith?

  • Manu Ginobili

    What’s faith got to do with it? Just because he doesn’t expect a win, you don’t care what he thinks. You’re what’s wrong with humanity.

    As if what you expect to happen will have any impact on what does happen. Is it so wrong to form an expectation of what will happen based on the available evidence (without forcing that opinion on everyone else), and then waiting to see what happens?

    If they win, we’re happy all the same.

  • Anonymous

    “You’re what’s wrong with humanity”

    funny, false but very funny.

  • Hobson13

    This could possibly be the shot that turns the entire series (and maybe sesason) on its head. I know that I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but the Spurs have been playing poor basketball for the better part of two months and it’s obvious to see that their confidence was virtually shot. They needed a game (or a shot) that could galvanize the team, give them confidence, and make them believe. I had fully expected the team to lay down in game 5 and just go home. However, after Neal’s insane play, you could see life back in the Spurs title hopes as they soundly beat the Grizz in the extra 5 minutes. Now, instead of the Spurs only having one series win to hang their hat on, they now have two. Their skin in the series just increased. Going into game 6, the Spurs really have nothing to lose. I expect it to be another crazy tangle with the game being decided in the last two minutes. Game 6 will essentially decide who wins the series. Either the Grizz close us out or they go back to SA. If this series goes back to SA, then the Grizz are finished. It will be interesting to see how the Grizz respond after such a shocker.

    P.S. This series reminds me a bit of the 2006 Spurs/Mavs series. Spurs fought back from a 3-1 deficit to take it into the last seconds of a crazy game 7. However, hopefully the final outcome would turn out differently this time.

  • Rob

    As the chronicles of time transcend to the future…the moments of past glory is all we will have. That shot…that confidence…that moment reminded me of the Spurs past championship runs. A spark of spirit and rising above adversity suddenly…magically…placed faith and confidence back into a team who had all but seen their light of prominence flickering to it’s last dim illumination before burning out leaving only wisps of smoke fading into air.

    Parker regained confidence. Took charge in OT as we all were hoping he could/would do in this series.

    Perhaps all a dream, desire, belief needs is one shining moment in the depths of disparity to kindle once again the best all on this team can be.

    I hope so…

    Go Spurs Go!!!

  • Joseph Dooley

    “But, if you’re reading this, you most likely won’t be one of those people, and neither will I. Because, the truth is, no team — no iteration of a team — has meant more to me than the Tim Duncan-era Spurs. The Spurs won their first title the summer before my freshman year of high school. A few days after graduating from college, I pulled into my parents’ driveway in Austin, Texas, and later that evening the Spurs won their fourth title. Their championship window has coincided with the most formative years of my life.”

    Thank you, Graydon Gordian. We are the same age, and I relate completely to what you’ve said. I remember listening to the Spurs-Suns game 4 in the 2007 playoffs while driving with my dad back home after I graduated college. And I watched the .4 seconds D-Fisher shot when I should have been studying for college credit exams my senior year of high school.

  • marrocas

    Great read. I will also remember this game as one of the Spurs best. For sure. I also do not care about losing, if you are giving it all you have. Now, let’s see if the Grizz can maintain that swagger all series long. They have been shooting lights out because their confidence has been sky high. We will see if they can maintain it as the pressure keeps raising. It is a winnable game if the Spurs fight for 48 min. and are not satisfied with this last miraculous game. Let’s go from there.

  • Big50

    Trying to make up for your “Gentlemen’s Sweep” comment here Graydon? Nice write up. Let’s hope you’re wrong about this series and keep rooting for this great Duncan era to continue on.

  • Big50

    *and we can keep rooting….

  • Lauri

    I don’t think it’s possible for me to agree more with every sentence, every word, every damn letter in every damn word, that you wrote. This is how I feel about the Spurs. Right here.

  • John T.

    There is just no in between with Gary Neal. He is either making tough shots at the buzzer (two in this series on completely broken plays) or ending up on the wrong end of the most vicious dunks of the season.

    I still cannot believe the Spurs won this game. It was definitely against all odds.

  • JonnyC

    Outstanding! Everything I wanted to say but had no idea how to say. Thank you for that.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Nice write up. For the last 12 years every year knowing that we could be in the hunt for championship was a true blessing for this city. It literally put us on the basketball map. We are now mentioned along the likes of the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, as having a rich history as one of the TV analysts said. After this run is over we are still part of that history and club. “LONG LIVE THE CORE 3”!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Talk about wanting to tear up you didn’t make it any easier. Nice post.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I think what he meant was faith in our team. What’s wrong with that? Faith in many instances has controlled the atom. And I don’t mean fate. Faith is one of the ingredients in unlocking the secrets of the Universe. If you can comprehend that on a miniscule level you just might experience the rewards of it someday. Just saying

  • Titletown99030507d

    I think the whole city feels this way at this point. It’s like a 180 degree turn around for everybody Spurs, fans, and doubters.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah, I agree. They’re due a couple of pitiful shooting nites. Let it start here. The stars are aligned.

  • Titletown99030507d

    That shot will erase any dunk he’s been on the receiving end.

  • RobG

    Unbelievable article. Graydon, you and i are one the same timeline. I got to see the 99 championship before entering high school and graduated college as we won our 4th title. Thank you for articulating what I am currently processing. I stayed up late last night to watch the replays of the game and highlights, trying to savor the moment knowing that we are nearing the end of a very special run. Go Spurs Go.

  • Aaron Pinchback

    Its funny, I relate the Spurs Championships with life milestones

  • Aaron Pinchback

    Its funny, I relate the Spurs Championships with life milestones

  • judd

    your last 2 paragraphs almost made me cry. it’s so true. it’s hard to explain how fun and important the tim duncan era spurs have been to me. and it will end with this playoff run. we will probably not be competing for a title next year. that hasn’t been the case since before duncan came into the league. what an amazing run. but you are wrong about one thing. the spurs will win this series. other than last night, everything has gone the griz’ way. every call, big shot, lose ball, momentum change. they earned a lot of this, but a lot was just pure luck. well now their hearts have been ripped out. there are two reasons they scored 1 basket in ot and only one of them was our defense. we will play better, we will hold onto a lead and we will win the next 2 games.

  • Rickla

    Totally, totally agree. Well said.

  • NYC

    Alright, so I will fly out to Krakow tonight. I should arrive an hour or so before tip off. You’re gonna pick me up from the airport and bring me to a local bar, right?

  • LONG

    Who here lives in Seattle, WA and wants to watch game six tomorrow?

  • LONG

    Who here lives in Seattle, WA and wants to watch game six tomorrow?

  • Len

    Re:2006 Mavs series

    Yes, I immediately thought about it after the final horn sounded last night. I know it will make me think twice about proclaiming the series over if the good guys win game 6.

    It ain’t over til it’s over.

  • DorieStreet

    Great article– no better example of what it means to be a devoted fan of much-deserving team.

    That shot will also keep us going as Spurs Fans- through the closing of one era and the beginning of another.
    Imagine how Gary Neal felt–once he got (if he got) a few moments alone late into the night. Thinking back to where he was one year before to now- he, as an undrafted rookie, was the one chosen to either get his team to overtime or be the final period in a great regular season that would shockingly end much too quickly in the playoffs. And he delivered. Even more important–he knows he belongs. May Neal take last night and go forward with the same resolve to compete (& improve) as a Spur long after #s 21, 20 & 9 exit the court for the last time.

  • austinspur

    holy hell you don’t deserve to use manus name.

  • Hillarydhansen

    This column brought me to tears. No team has, or ever will, mean as much to me as this group of Spurs. For the last decade plus, I have lived and died with this team. The Spurs are what’s right with the NBA. I can even begin to fathom the Spurs without Timmy D, but young talent like Gary Neal gives me hope that the future is still bright.

  • Haluk Aktas

    I feel like as the commentator, it feel me like watching a pathetic sometimes cheering sometimes victorious movie having a theme around Duncan and his comrads year to year wishing it s a neverending story .
    It s all because of Duncans personality ,maturity how he looks and plain talks he did
    Wishing you fortunate night in Memphis, dont let it end like this.

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  • Betsy Duncan

    That’s funny. I seem to recall that he was on the floor when the final horn sounded.

  • LifelongTimmy2123

    No truer words have been spoken.

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