Had Horry not converted his decisive shot with 5.8 seconds to play in overtime, water-cooler talk yesterday morning likely would have been about the failings of the Spurs' Tim Duncan.
Instead, with his typical confident flick of the wrist, Horry left Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace up for scrutiny after the Spurs escaped with a 96-95 victory that gave them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Although the box score stood as a testament to Duncan's brilliance, with 26 points, 19 rebounds and two blocked shots, the play-by-play of the deciding minutes told a different story. The All-Star power forward shot 1-for-7 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, blew an open tip-in opportunity at the fourth-quarter buzzer and went scoreless in overtime.
"It was an absolute nightmare," Duncan said.
Yet because of the magic provided by Horry, it is possible Duncan emerges with his third Finals Most Valuable Player Award should San Antonio win either tonight's Game 6 or Thursday's Game 7, with both to be played in San Antonio.
In many ways, Duncan's late-game fade was typical of what Wallace has offered the past week. But the lack of second-half offense for the Pistons forward in the previous three games paled in comparison to his Game 5 overtime mistake.
With 9.5 seconds to play and the Spurs trailing by two, Horry inbounded from the left sideline to guard Manu Ginobili. At that point, Horry was supposed to cut to the lane.
But at that very moment, Wallace decided to attempt to trap Ginobili, a player who was 5-for-16 from the field, in the left corner. Wallace's move was not merely a breach of Basketball 101, but also something closer to a violation of Basketball Pre-K.
"As soon as I saw [Wallace] coming, always my first option is Robert," Ginobili said, "especially in those moments."
Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, "When Rasheed double-teamed, things changed and Manu made a great pass."
Horry then moved the Spurs within a victory of a third championship during the past seven years, with the type of precision that made him so critical to previous championship drives by both the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers.
"He hit a big shot," Wallace said. "You got to give him credit. He hit a huge three."
Wallace downplayed his decision. "You can't go back and say, 'Shoulda, woulda, coulda.'"
Pistons coach Larry Brown stood stunned as Wallace left Horry.
"I guess there was miscommunication," he said. "We talked about what we wanted to do. All you're thinking of is, no three-point shots. Worst thing that can happen to you is a layup, you've still got two timeouts."
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
San Antonio vs. Detroit
Best of seven; *-if necessary
All games on chs. 2, 7
(San Antonio leads series 3-2)
Game 1: San Antonio, 84-69
Game 2: San Antonio, 97-76
Game 3: Detroit, 96-79
Game 4: Detroit, 102-71
Game 5: San Antonio, 96-95, OT
Today: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.
*Thursday: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.