At first, we thought it was just something with which Kevin Love(notes) was struggling. Then, we learned it was a deeper problem, something that the Minnesota Timberwolves felt they needed to practice. And now, it seems that even the team with the best record in the NBA — the 17-3, Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs — isn't safe from the sickness.
Neal came down with the fail flu after shooting a technical free throw during the second quarter of the Spurs' 109-84 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday night. It was pretty much the only thing that went wrong for San Antonio, which led by 38 at one point, but it definitely went pretty wrong.
On the one hand, yikes. That's embarrassing, and right now, unfortunately, it's kind of the signature moment of Gary Neal's NBA career.
Don't get me wrong — the 26-year-old rookie has been a great find for San Antonio, coming out of relative obscurity after overcoming off-court trouble as a young man and spending several years overseas to contribute 6.6 points in 15.9 minutes per game off the Spurs' bench, giving the second unit a boost by hitting 42.2 percent of his 3-pointers. But he's just 20 games into his first season in Texas, so hardly anyone who's not a Spurs fan or a League Pass die-hard knows anything about Neal. Except that now, the likelihood is far higher that people will be like, "Gary Neal? Is he the dude that Supermanned his way down the lane and tried to high-five nobody?" That's kind of a bummer.
On the other hand, most players have free-throw routines, something that helps them maintain their mechanics and handle the pressure of adjusting from the breakneck pace of an NBA game to a slam-on-the-brakes uncontested 15-footer taken while all eyes are on them. In the heat of the moment, Neal was probably so focused on doing what he normally does to drain a freebie (which he's doing at a 87.5 percent clip this season) that it didn't occur to him that the lane was a ghost town until it was too late. Now that's dedication to a routine. I bet Dick Baumgartner is all like, "Way to stay consistent, Gary Neal. Now give me 750 more just like that."
Having said that, let's go back to that "yikes" hand, because it's an awful lot more fun. For the time being, Gary Neal, we're laughing at you, but hopefully, you're a good sport and we'll soon be laughing with you. Also, next time you're taking the tech, take a page out of Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper's book, and look around you. You'll be glad you did.
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- Gary Neal