San Antonio Spurs 110, Memphis Grizzlies 103: Neal before Zod! Spurs survive
AT&T CENTER–So far as first impressions go, Gary Neal left a hell of an impressive one tonight, rescuing the San Antonio Spurs from the brink of elimation in his first playoff series.
Because of Neal the Spurs will live to see another day, which is a far cry from the impression he left with Manu Ginobili when he first arrived in San Antonio.
“It was mid-September and I was working out and he showed up one day. They told me that this was the new shooter,” Manu Ginobili said. “I’m not lying when I say that I saw him miss the first 20 shots he took. We were playing open gym and he was shooting confidently, but he wasn’t making one.
“Then he got used to playing with us and started feeling slowly that he belonged. And then he started showing us what he’s shown all season long. That was my first impression of him.”
Confidence has rarely been an issue with Neal–who ended a summer league game with a three-pointer in similar fashion–and it took little time for his teammates to find their confidence in him. Neal burst on the scene with the real team for the first time in Mexico City, where the same Manu Ginobili that watched him miss 20 consecutive shots diagrammed a game-winning 3-pointer specifically for Neal.
Early in the regular season he arrived in the regular rotation shortly after draining three free throws to send a November game against the Minnesota Timberwolves into overtime after being fouled on a last second three-point attempt. He has been a fixture since.
“He made a great shot. If you see the whole roster you probably wouldn’t expect the undrafted rookie to take the shot to save us,” Ginobili said. “But he earned it. It’s not that Pop went crazy and made a crazy decision. He knew what was going on.”
Emboldened by Neal’s bravado and given new life, the San Antonio Spurs outscored the Memphis Grizzlies 13-6 in overtime, mostly on the strength of clutch jumper after jumper from Tony Parker, who scored six of his 24 points in overtime.
For the first time all series Tony Parker got the best of his matchup with Mike Conley and the Parker who balanced the Spurs offense with his own scoring endeavors emerged. Nine assists for Parker, who appeared much more patient and in control running the Spurs pick and rolls–especially in the first half.
“[Parker] was huge, that’s the most confidently he’s played in the series,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve been trying to figure out why he hasn’t been more aggressive, especially with his shot. he’s been hitting that mid-range shot all year long and done a great job of it.
“Tonight he did that and it was a huge help for us and it kept us in a position to win.”
Parker–and the Spurs in general–were much more patient in the first half. Allowing the pick and rolls to develop while keeping their dribble alive in the lane, waiting for Grizzlies defenders to either commit or return to their man before making a decision.
It was enough for a double digit lead through a portion of the first half and yet it was almost not quite nearly enough. After the game a very blunt Manu Ginobili admitted for a fifth consecutive game the Memphis Grizzlies outplayed the San Antonio Spurs.
“I don’t really think that we showed the heart of a champion. We got lucky, it’s the truth,” Ginobili said. “They played better in the second half, they executed down the stretch, and their defense is always tough.
“That overtime was a different story, but we were very close to being on vacation right now.”
And they would be if not for an unlikely sequence of events that pulls the Spurs even with the Grizzlies from Games 1 and 3 in miraculous shots. In similar fashion to Game 1 the Grizzlies broke up a play with less than 10 seconds diagrammed for a game tying three-pointer. Again Memphis got their hands on the ball and lost it only to give up an open shot–this time to Manu Ginobili in the corner.
It was a roller coaster of emotions as the Spurs season hung on a steal that ended up not being a steal to a three-pointer than ended up not being a three-pointer. After official review it was determined that Ginobili’s foot was on the line. Afterward Manu had no idea where his feet were set. You see, he did not even see the rim.
“To tell you the truth I didn’t [think the shot was going in],” Ginobili said. “I didn’t even see the rim. I had Mark [Gasol] on top of me as I was falling out of bounds. I just got lucky. That’s the truth.”
Sometimes that’s the way these playoff games go. Better lucky than good, better Memphis than vacation. Sometimes you miss miss 20 shots in a row, other times you’re breathing new life into your teammates with one quick release.