A 26-year-old undrafted rookie who's found a new chapter in a story that seemed all but over just one year ago. A role player called forth into the light in what looked like the final moments of a waning moon. A knockdown shooter who found just enough room to get his shot off.
Gary Neal, this is your life.
This 3-pointer tied Game 5 of the first-round Western Conference playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies at 97, sending it into overtime. San Antonio outscored Memphis 13-6 in the extra session, posting a 110-103 victory that puts a second notch in their win column and sends this series back to the FedEx Forum for Game 6 on Friday night.
The Grizzlies can still become the first eight-seed to win a first-round series and topple a top seed since the beautiful and cherished 2007 Golden State Warriors knocked off the Dallas Mavericks ... provided they can shake off the shell shock of watching that taciturn silver-and-black wraith rise up one more time. No small task, that.
While I certainly wouldn't want to denigrate the late-game contributions of a great coach like Gregg Popovich, who can and frequently does do so much to put his players in prime position to win as the final seconds tick off the clock, I have to agree with a point made by my man Bethlehem Shoals, who's doing a hell of a job writing about the playoffs for GQ.com: This thing right here wasn't about coaching and cleverness.
That was squaring up from 26-feet out, facing defender and demons, then rising up and giving your team one more breath. If Gary Neal took a page out of Sam Cassell's book and skipped downcourt pantomiming elephantiasis of the testicles, no jury in the world could convict him of biting, nor any fair-minded commissioner fine him for unwarranted boasting. That was a bit-parter playing the hero, and waylaying our new people's champs in the process. For the moment, at least.
Friday can't come fast enough.
Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 33 points on 18 shots, six rebounds and six assists. Tony Parker chipped in with 24 points (9-for-20 shooting) and nine assists. Zach Randolph continued his stellar post play for the Grizzlies with 26 points on 17 shots, 11 rebounds and six assists, while Mike Conley (20 points, five boards, five assists) and Sam Young (18 points on 12 shots, six rebounds, two steals) were stalwart in defeat.
Neal scored seven points in 10 minutes of play off the bench and hit one long ball. Because it's the playoffs, it had to be this one.