SAN ANTONIO – The last time it was Mario Chalmers. This time it was Gary Neal.
What is it about the Alamo City that leaves basketball teams from Memphis feeling like they’ve just been visited by Santa Anna’s army?
It was the 2008 NCAA championship game just up the road when Chalmers hit a high, arcing jumper for Kansas that forced overtime and eventually sent the Memphis Tigers to defeat.
This time it was Neal, the undrafted, 26-year-old rookie who buried the shot that sent Game 5 into overtime and saved the Spurs from an early grave.
In 2008, Derrick Rose made the mistake of missing free throws that held the door open for Kansas.
On Wednesday night, Zach Randolph made the mistake of putting a finger to his lips to tell the San Antonio crowd it was over when it wasn’t after he hit a step-back jumper with 13.8 seconds left to play.
Oh, there were lessons to be learned by the young Grizzlies.
When the Spurs inbounded the ball with 1.7 seconds remaining on the fourth quarter clock, the Grizzlies ignored coach Lionel Hollins’ instructions and none of them came out to guard the 3-point line.
When Neal’s shot went in and the game went to overtime, none of the Grizzlies had the fire within to keep competing.
“I think that we were down after the loss of the lead when they tied it up at the end,” Hollins said. “We had too many guys that were hurt and not mature enough at this stage to just let it go.”
Sometimes, this is how a series can turn. This is how history gets made. One play, one shot, one moment that slips through your grasp.
Now the Grizzlies have to let it go. They have to shake off the uppercut that floored them in time for Game 6. They can’t simply rely on the crowd that will be packed inside FedEx Forum to lift their spirits. They’ve got to go back to being the aggressive, hungry, attacking bunch that keeps on playing all the way to the end.
Or else it’s back to San Antonio, where the ghosts of Memphis basketball will be waiting.