The San Antonio Spurs tried to pull away early as Tim Duncan began the game in vintage playoff form, scoring scored 11 points in the first nine minutes helping the Spurs build an early double-digit lead.
However, the Memphis Grizzlies would not go easy away that easily. They came back roaring and led 68-65 entering the fourth period.
From there, it’s was a frantic finish.
With the Spurs down 95-92, Manu Ginobili made a tough two-pointer with 2.2 seconds left.
Zach Randolph stretched the Grizzlies’ lead back to three with two free throws on the ensuing possession.
The Spurs were almost done. With 1.7 seconds left in regulation, they needed a 3-pointer to send the game into over time.
And with their season on the line, instead of Manu, Parker or Duncan taking the final shot, the Spurs turned to rookie Gary Neal.
With Duncan setting up a perfect screen, the Spurs’ sweet shooting guard caught the inbound pass 3 feet behind the three-point line, squared up for the shot with O.J. Mayo running toward him, and hit the biggest shot of his young NBA career.
Before his game tying shot, Neal had only one attempt this season in the final five seconds to win or tie a game — missing a three-point shot in the final seconds against the Phoenix Suns on April 13 in the Spurs’ final regular season game.
The 3-pointer that Neal made, will definitely go down as of one of the biggest shots in Spurs’ history, especially if then can complete the come back.
Nonetheless, a lot of credit should go to Ginobili. Manu had a strong game, leading the Spurs with 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the floor. Without his big game and his tough shot prior to Neal’s three-pointer, the Spurs wouldn’t have the chance to tie the game in regulation.
With Manu playing like Manu, and Neal coming up big with the season on the line, the Spurs can breathe a sigh of relief.
But there is a lot of work to be done.
The series goes back to Memphis on Friday, where the Grizzlies are unbeaten in the playoffs.
Do the Spurs have what it takes to extend this series and play another game in San Antonio?
If they want to keep their playoff hopes alive, they have to do so. For now, they can thank Manu and Neal as they live another day.