Last Second Life: Neal Extends Game, Spurs Extend Series with Win

In the years of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty, there have been many legendary shots, and the Spurs had another one go down for them… from Manu Ginobili… so they thought.

In a mad scramble for the ball as the final seconds ticked away in the 4th quarter, “Pistolero” shot from the hip, falling away in the corner and knocked down what appeared to be a game-tying shot. The crowd was going wild, the Memphis Grizzlies looked stunned. But a few seconds later, the referees reviewed the play and replays showed that Manu’s foot was on the line. It sucked the air out of the building and Memphis appeared to dodge a huge bullet. This series was theirs thanks to Manu’s big left foot.

After a quick foul and two more clutch free throws from Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies were 1.7 seconds away from the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs. And then those plans got put on hold.

(I had to search long and hard for this video with the call from Bill Land and Sean Elliot. Every other highlight online has the call from the Grizzlies guys, who are underwhelmed and disappointed. Just doesn’t sound right considering how big the moment was, but can you blame them? The team probably felt the same way.)

San Antonio forced overtime and played some of it’s best basketball in the extra frame to win Game 5 110-103 and send the series back to Memphis.

Memphis did just about everything right in the 2nd half of this game. They dominated the paint, they kept stealing away any Spurs momentum with 2nd chance points, big stops and turnovers, and they made the Spurs use every ounce of energy just to get anything to bounce their way. And then they let Gary Neal get that shot away.

Lionel Hollins talked about it after the game. He told his guys to do everything that they could to not allow a three-point attempt. And yet, when he looked onto the court, everyone was just guarding their man. If he had assigned two guys to guard the inbounder and left three to just guard the three-point line, we might be talking about the end of the Spurs season and how it all fell apart. Instead, everyone is talking about how the Grizzlies will react to this reversal of fortune.

The Spurs didn’t do much celebrating. While the bench was pumped, Neal and the rest of the guys on the floor had a looks on their faces like they knew the game wasn’t over. Memphis didn’t look rattled throughout most of the overtime either, but it was clear that both teams weren’t the same. The Grizzlies never led in the extra period. Tony Parker got hot from the field and carried the team through the extra frame. While Memphis had an answer for the first few buckets, San Antonio was playing in an extra gear that he Grizzlies couldn’t match. Randolph tied the game on a putback with 1:49 left and the Grizzlies never scored again.

If the Memphis Grizzlies played every quarter like it was the 3rd quarter of the last two contests, then they would have easily swept this series. Memphis is +26 in the last two 3rd periods, making the necessary adjustments at halftime and taking control of the last two games to start the 2nd half. In Game 5, they took control by constantly getting into the paint and crashing the boards. San Antonio forced the Grizzlies into a lot of jump shots in the first half, and the only beneficiary was Mike Conley who shot 8-10 from the field. The rest of the team was just 10-28. All were jumpers off simple screens. What’s great for San Antonio is that he’s the only one that touches the ball and no one else really gets going. The Spurs held an eight point lead at the half thanks to that strategy. Memphis was unable to create separation when they took the lead in the game because Conley kept taking those shots when left open. He went just 1-10 for the rest of the game.

Photo by Adam Sweeney

The unsung hero in this game is definitely Tiago Splitter. He only played 15 minutes in the game. He scored six points and grabbed three rebounds, but he brought a shot of energy to the game, did a solid job on defense in the low block and was quite disciplined in setting screens on the perimeter to free up shooters. I expect Gregg Popovich to trust him with more playing time in Game 6. McDyess gets worn out having to guard Zach Randolph for more than 30 minutes every game and Tim Duncan could use the rest because there were times toward the end of this game where he was clearly winded. The only thing that kills his value on the court is his awful free throw shooting. He was 0-2 last night and one of those shots didn’t even have a chance. Many of his free throws don’t even get above the rim.

Manu Ginobili was the high scorer and played his best in the 2nd quarter when the Spurs were in complete control. He scored 15 points in the 2nd quarter and then essentially went head-to-head with Randolph in the final two minutes of the 4th quarter to decide the game. He scored eight points to Randolph’s six points in the final minutes, but Randolph had 16 in the quarter.

Ginobili played like he did in Game 2: possessed. He was determined to get to the basket and was in constant motion, sensing the moment and knowing that his team needed him.

So now the series shifts to Memphis. This team has been through a lot the past two weeks. They hadn’t won a game before, so they’ve definitely never had to deal with blowing a series clincher in 1.7 seconds before. It’ll be interesting to see how they react because they haven’t had any pressure on them at all in this series because they won Game 1 and have been playing with house money ever since. Now, unless they can close out this series at home, they’ll have to head back to San Antonio for a Game 7.

About Javi Perez

Javi Perez is a contributing editor with Playmaker Magazine heading up the sports desk, as well as covering the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, film, and TV. He currently lives in San Antonio.