Down by three, season, legacy, dynasty and careers on the line with just 1.7 seconds left, what do you do if you’re the San Antonio Spurs? What play do you run to save the team from becoming just the second team in history to be defeated by an 8th seed?
Gary Neal. That’s what Popovich was thinking. Who? Gary freakin’ Neal!? Don’t know him, never heard of him? Few people have until this year. Neal played college basketball at La Salle University before transferring to Towson University. Another school you’ve probably never heard of. Neal began his professional career with teams in Turkey, Spain, and Italy before signing with the Spurs in 2010 and less than a year into his rookie season he’s called upon to take off his warm-ups and save their season.
It’s calls like that, that makes us all realize we really have no idea what it means to be the head coach of an NBA basketball team. Gary Neal. Really?
You have Manu Ginobili who already has 33 points and who moments earlier just hit a clutch field goal, you have Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and even Matt Bonner that could possibly take the shot. Instead, Pop points at his rookie combo guard who hasn’t shot a ball since halftime and draws up a miracle play to save the season. Baffling, but I guess the NBA is where amazing things happen.
Granted, Gary Neal leads all rookies in 3 point shooting percentage and he’s the best three point shooter on the team…but come on. That call takes ballsy to another level. Let’s be honest, if Neal misses that shot, everyone and their momma is second guessing Pop forever on that call.
So far that’s the greatest moment of the 2011 NBA playoffs and an instant classic. It’s an indication of what Greg Popovich demands from his players. He demands them to be robots, to come into the game and do their job, that’s it. The Spurs uniforms are even that black and metallic silver color…Don’t think, just play, just produce.
Maybe Tony Parker took it to heart when the rookie had to step up and save the season. Parker was unstoppable in the extra period as the Spurs took control and took the victory 110-103. Something changed in the OT, the Grizzlies looked like they lost a little bit of momentum.
This series is now at 3-2 for the Grizzlies, but we know the Spurs won’t go down without a fight.
Closing out a team with veterans like the Spurs will not be an easy task for the Grizzlies, who are still learning how to win.