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'Big Shot' adds a little excitement to Finals


SAN ANTONIO - Where would these NBA Finals be without Big Shot Bob?

Correction: Big Shot Rob.

"You can make it Rob, R-O-B, but B-O-B, that's not me," Robert Horry clarified yesterday in the wee hours of the morning inside The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan.

Fan of alliteration or not, Horry has earned the right to be called whatever he wants, regardless of what everyone else wants to call him. For example, Savior. That nickname fits. These Finals, horrendous to endure for four games, are now special because of him. The San Antonio Spurs have life and a leg up on a third championship because of him.

His legacy is even more secure than it already had been, and even for those who recoil at the runaway egos in the sport, he offers a nice rebuttal, a breath of fresh air and a hope for the triumph of the best the game has to offer.

Plus, he might have altered the history of the league - for at least the fourth time in five years. No question, everybody is thinking completely differently about tonight's Game 6 in San Antonio because of what Horry did in Game 5, from the final second of the third quarter until the last 5.8 seconds of overtime. If Horry misses that three-pointer at the end, the Detroit Pistons are most likely rolling into SBC Center with a 3-2 lead and a head of steam that the Spurs might have been powerless to cool off.

Instead, the defending champs face the end of their reign, maybe the end of Larry Brown's tenure as coach and, thus, the end of the team as we know it.

That's a big shot, Rob. Bigger than, as Horry said, "probably 25th, somewhere down there like that," on the all-time list of huge playoff performances.

But was that shot bigger than the one he hit three years ago for the Los Angeles Lakers, the buzzer-beating three-pointer at Staples Center in Game 4 of the epic Western Conference finals against the Sacramento Kings? Horry misses that, and the Kings take two straight in their personal house of horrors and bring a 3-1 series back to Sacramento. The Lakers' threepeat might have only been a twopeat.

And Chris Webber might have a championship ring today. Yikes!

Instead, Webber and Vlade Divac attributed the loss to luck. Horry's reply then: "I've been doing that for all my career. He should know. He'd better read a paper or something."

In case your neighbor snatched those particular editions, Horry also produced a game-winning three for the Lakers in Portland to wrap up a first-round sweep of the Trail Blazers in 2002, and a game-deciding three in Game 3 of the 2001 NBA Finals in Philadelphia, breaking a 1-1 series tie and the 76ers' momentum. (Brown was the opposing coach then, too. Ouch.)

Bet you didn't know this: Horry has more career three-pointers in the Finals than anyone else, more postseason threes than everybody but Reggie Miller, and more playoff games than everybody but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Scottie Pippen.

Then there are the five rings with two teams, closing in on six with three teams. Horry has made a great living on being in the right place at the right time, and smart teams make sure the place is with them. Two years ago, when the Lakers declined to re-sign him, the Spurs decided he wasn't done yet (even now he's just 34, although it feels like he's been playing since the early '80s). Horry has tons of intangibles and subtle strengths, and they all get overshadowed by his heroics - and, more important, his willingness to be the hero.

"There are a whole lot of players," his coach, Gregg Popovich, said yesterday, "who would rather not be in those kinds of situations."

Horry's contribution to the NBA almost defies quantification. Miller gets the hype as being his era's best clutch shooter, but he's been in one Finals, which he lost (to Horry's Lakers). Steve Kerr has a nice string of big shots for title teams, too; a little more similarity in size and complexion, and he and Horry might be long-lost brothers.

But Kerr has never been called on to bail out a flailing team and a failing superstar to this extent. In just this instance Horry saved Tim Duncan from one of the most wretched performances down the stretch of a big game by an all-but-certain Hall of Famer since at least Karl Malone's heyday.

As a bonus, he slapped a set of goat horns on Rasheed Wallace's head, for making the single-dumbest defensive decision ever in a pivotal playoff game. He's in Webber-timeout, Isiah Thomas-inbound territory. And it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

On a more positive note: Chances are Horry gave you a reason to give the Finals another try tonight. He gave the series a defining moment that everyone will remember for a long time.

Yup, that was a real big shot, Rob.

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