You don’t leave him alone. You never leave him alone. But there he was, alone, at his favorite killer spot, the three-point line, Rasheed Wallace had gotten snookered, and by the time Tayshaun Prince went charging toward the killer, like a man trying to save a dog from a speeding bus, it was too late. The killer lined it up. The killer got it in his sights. The killer fired.
The killer hit.
And that may be that. The Pistons were like a classic album in a wonderful groove, and then someone stomped on the ground and the needle jumped. Groove over. Scratch heard. Their streak of home victories in the NBA Finals ended Sunday night in overtime, just after midnight, broken up by a 34-year-old bench player who seems to do this to somebody every year. Game 5 was the Pistons’ turn to have their music interrupted by Robert Horry. And as a result, they are heading to San Antonio today looking at the biggest hurdle they have faced yet – and they have faced an awful lot of them.
“I was shooting pretty good,” Horry told ABC after the game was over and the Palace was deflated and the Spurs had prevailed in overtime, 96-95, thanks to his three-point miracle, “so I was gonna let it fly.”
Let it fly. And let it die. They call him Big Shot Bob and you didn’t need anymore evidence than this game to see why. Horry’s dagger had blood all over it. He hit one three-pointer. He hit another. He hit a huge slam in overtime and got fouled. He had no points in the first half, three in the third quarter and 18 rest of the way, including five out of six three-pointers. If there is one thing you don’t allow to happen against any team with Robert Horry on it, it’s giving him the chance to make a big shot. He has been doing it his whole career. He has done it for the Rockets. He has done it for the Lakers. He has done it for the Spurs. Rasheed Wallace committed a space cadet move, doubling the wrong guy, Manu Ginobili, leaving Horry alone. You can’t fault one guy for a loss. But you can fault one guy for a play that leads to one.
“I guess there was a miscommunication,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said, trying to protect Wallace. “You talk all year about the things you want to accomplish if everybody gets it, you don’t get in that situation. If everybody doesn’t it ultimately falls on me.”
No it doesn’t. Brown doesn’t wear shorts, and he doesn’t play. The Pistons are smart enough to know better. Rasheed is smart enough to know better. The ball went into Ginobili. A two-point basket would have only tied the score. They could live with that. Only one thing was forbidden – a three-point basket.
And that’s what they allowed.
“Actually, I wasn’t even thinking about” a three-pointer,” Horry said. “It was supposed to be a pick-and-roll with Tim (Duncan) and I saw Rasheed bite and I said, Oh, let me stay out here.’
“Since I was shooting well, I wanted to let it fly. I’m the type of player I want to win a game. I’m always going to go for a three.”
No blowout this time
You wanted a tight one? Here was a tight one. You wanted to hear your heart in your chest? Here you go. You wanted an NBA Finals game that didn’t show its cards by halftime? How was that? You wanted maybe overtime? Overtime it was. It was traded baskets. It was traded steals. It was traded blocks, traded fouls, traded spots atop the scoreboard. Not to put too much of a cliché on it, but you did find yourself saying “Who wants it more?” and you came up with a different answer every 24 seconds.
It was Ginobili coming back to life, and Tony Parker exploding in the first half, and Duncan (26 points) playing the part of the android that won’t quit (except at the free-throw line and except at the very end, when he tightened up). And it was Chauncey Billups pulling up for jumpers and Antonio McDyess hitting the boards hard and Prince elevating for one-handed floaters that defied natural law.
But in the end it was Horry, with his momentum killing three-pointers, and seven rebounds and some smart playmaking. He pulled a victory out of defeated air. The Pistons should be up, three games to two, today. Instead, the face Herculean task.
“That’s Big Shot Bob!” Duncan gushed after the victory. “He does whatever he wants to do.”
Well, he seems to when a big game is on the line.
The Pistons know that. They just didn’t get him covered. That’s what the Pistons do, get people covered. They didn’t this time. It’s that simple. The irony is that the Spurs last year were knocked from their confidence by a killer shot from Derek Fisher of the Lakers They never recovered and lost their chance at the title.
Will Horry’s shot do the same to the Pistons?
Because, remember, for a while there last week, the Pistons were like a lifetime chain smoker who quits to run marathons. He suddenly looks good, looks healthy, but there’s this cloud in his past and you never know when it comes back to haunt. Sunday night, the Pistons knew. The two games they had lost in San Antonio still counted, and that cloud, combined with this heartbreaking loss in Game 5, means the marathon that remains is next to impossible, no matter how clear their lungs felt last week.
They have to win two in San Antonio, a place where they haven’t won one in a long, long time.
Who believes in miracles?
You do have to tip your blue-and-red wig to the Spurs. After all, they have been in Michigan long enough to run for governor. They lost two games in three days and then they had to wait. The fatigue factor and the self-disgust factor could have combined into a lackluster “let’s-just-get-out-of-here” performance.
Instead, the Spurs came out with more intensity Sunday. They kept it close the entire game. They got contributions from Parker and Ginobili early, Duncan in regulation and Horry in overtime. They did what neither team has done so far, won in the road. They have themselves – and Horry – to pat on the back.
“Robert was unbelievable,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game was done. “Hitting big shots is who he is. That’s what he does.”
Don’t remind us.
Now, there are two ways you can go here. You can see it factually, historically, you can point out how nearly impossible what Detroit needs to do now is. You could look at it that way.
Or you could look at it through the prism that the Pistons have constructed: Make life next to impossible, then do the impossible. You can no longer deny the Pistons enjoy high drama. You can no longer deny they deliver in the crunchiest of crunch time. Have they ever had to do something like this? No. But there is a growing list of things they’d never done before, until they did them.
Pick your position. Game 6 will be played either way, Tuesday night, in the heat of a Texas June.
“We’ve still got a lot of fight in us,” Ben Wallace said. “This series is not over. We’ve got to do what they did.”
I’ll tell you this: The best thing they can do is try to forget Sunday night because it will do nothing but haunt them over and over. Horry standing out there, by himself, Rasheed fooled, Tayshaun chasing, and all of it too late, too little, too bad, too sad.
If you believe in basketball miracles, now’s a good time to ask.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read recent columns by Albom, go to www.freep.com/index/albom.