Just 1.7 seconds is all that remained for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in what has been a wasted and humiliating dud of a playoff run.
An undrafted rookie didn’t let them go down that quickly.
Catching the inbounds pass with 1.7 seconds left, Gary Neal forced overtime with a spectacular 3-pointer in the face of O.J. Mayo as time expired, and the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs staved off elimination by stunning the Memphis Grizzlies 110-103 on Wednesday night.
”It felt good. I knew I had good legs going into it,” Neal said. ”It felt good. I followed through and it went in.”
The eighth-seeded Grizzlies still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. They will host the Spurs on Friday night, but left town knowing they missed a knockout punch.
”They’re down by three, you’ve got to run them off the 3. You can’t let nobody shoot an open 3,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. ”You’ve got to contest the 3, you’ve got to deny the ball.”
The straightaway 3-pointer was the second of two remarkable San Antonio baskets in the final 2.2 seconds of regulation. Manu Ginobili, who scored 33 points, hit the other with a long corner jumper while falling out of bounds in front of the Spurs bench, in what was originally ruled a 3.
A video replay confirmed Ginobili’s left toe was on the line. That left the Spurs still trailing 95-94, and after two free throws by Randolph, San Antonio needed another miracle.
Ginobili? Parker? Duncan, in perhaps a repeat of his memorable tying 3-pointer with 3 seconds left against Phoenix in the 2008 playoffs, before the Spurs went on to a double-overtime win?
They drew it up for Neal, a 26-year-old rookie and former European journeyman who the Spurs signed this season after giving him an audition on their summer league team.
”You really don’t think about the magnitude of making or missing it, you just think about trying to get the best shot that you can get,” said Neal, who finished with seven points. ”It went in today, but I think it’s the best shot I could have got in that situation.”
Randolph led Memphis with 26 points and 11 rebounds. He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, but the Spurs assured a Game 6 in the overtime behind Parker, who scored 6 of his 24 in the extra period.
Only eight teams in NBA history have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. The Spurs, who were the NBA’s winningest team for most of the season, are desperate to join that list in what may be their last good shot to win a fifth championship in the Duncan era.
Memphis remains on the verge of becoming just the fourth No. 8 seed in NBA history to win a playoff series. Not since Golden State upset Dallas in 2006 has a No. 8 seed toppled a No. 1 in the first round.
Marc Gasol had 11 points and 17 rebounds for Memphis, while Mike Conley scored 20 points and Sam Young added 18.
Duncan began the game in vintage playoff form, looking keenly aware of the stakes. He scored 11 points in the first 9 1/2 minutes, but scored just two the rest of the way. He had 12 rebounds.
Randolph, whose 3-pointer at the end of the Game 3 win gave the Grizzlies the momentum, hit another big shot with 13.7 seconds left in regulation. His 18-footer over Antonio McDyess put Memphis ahead 93-91, prompting Randolph to put his finger to his lips, hushing the crowd.
But the Spurs weren’t going down that quietly.
”Come on, we’re on the road. It wasn’t going to be easy,” Grizzlies forward Shane Battier said. ”And we needed 48 minutes. We didn’t need 47 minutes and 59, 58 seconds and three-tenths. We needed the full 48 to get it done.”
Only 2.2 seconds is all the time the Spurs needed to make not only two of the biggest shots in this series, but in the NBA playoffs so far this postseason.
First up was Ginobili who, after snatching the ball following a botched, up-for-grabs inbounds pass, pivoted frantically to the corner in front of the Spurs bench and made a difficult shot while falling toward the baseline that initially looked like a 3-pointer.
The Spurs – and a crowd that included signs reading ”The Dynasty Lives” – thought Ginobili’s incredible fallaway tied the game. But after a lengthy video review, the officials reversed it.
That still left San Antonio down one point, and Randolph stretched the lead back to 97-94 with two free throws. So with their season on the line the Spurs turned to Neal to try and send the game to overtime.
Neal caught the inbounds pass 3 feet behind the 3-point line, then squared up with Mayo running toward him.
The rest is now part of Spurs history.
”It’s hard to beat Tim Duncan’s 3 against Phoenix. Because Timmy’s a terrible 3-point shooter,” Parker said. ”It’s hard to beat that one, but it’s definitely up there. It was definitely a crazy game. Especially like we made two buzzer shots: Manu and then Gary Neal.”
Notes: The Spurs are 2-7 in the playoffs dating to last season. … San Antonio avoided being eliminated on its home court for the third consecutive year.