- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

You watch Robert Horry in the regular season, and you figure he is really done this time.

You figure there is no way he can reprise his remarkable playoff self of seasons past. You figure his run as one of the NBA’s finest clutch players ever is at an end, as it eventually will be.a

But then, on a Sunday night in June, with Tim Duncan and the Spurs on the verge of slipping into the abyss of Auburn Hills, Mich., Horry puts the team on his back in the fourth quarter and overtime and strings together a series of plays and shots that becomes an instant classic of the NBA Finals.

The Spurs are in control of the Pistons again, up 3-2 in the NBA Finals, and all because of the 34-year-old role player out of Alabama. This was not Duncan’s moment or Manu Ginobili’s or Tony Parker’s. This was not one of the stars leading the way and everyone else falling behind the star, as it usually is in the NBA.

This was Big Shot Bob, as he is called, hitting one 3-pointer after another, including the game-winner with 5.8 seconds left in overtime, giving life to the previously tepid series.

This was Big Shot Bob forgetting the 34 years’ worth of wear on his body. There he was driving the three-second lane in overtime, then elevating and finishing with a left-hand dunk that few thought remained part of his repertoire.

He paid the price, too. He grabbed his left shoulder and grimaced in pain. He saved that one for just the right moment, in June, in a game that probably determined the outcome of the series.

Horry never would have attempted such a maneuver in the dead of winter, in the regular season, in a game lacking national relevance. He mostly sleepwalks through the regular season, putting up modest numbers, seemingly disinterested until the lights are brightest.

He makes no apologies for his indifference, and his employers go along with it because of his well-documented worthiness in the playoffs.

Horry lends credence to the common complaint that the NBA regular season is a glorified collection of exhibition games on some level, that too many players go through the motions.

Yet Horry truly is the exception, a role player all his own. He is perhaps the first of his kind, distinct from the celebrated role players of yesteryear and today.

As good as Ben Wallace is with the Pistons — a role player who is an All-Star — he never could carry his team the way Horry carried his. Wallace never could cover the back of his team’s principal scorers the way Horry did in Game 5.

Duncan fell into a funk at the free throw line, with the game hanging in the balance, going 0-for-6 in one fitful stretch. He also failed to convert a tip-in at the end of regulation. It would have been his burden if not for Horry.

And that is what makes Horry so rare, so special. He earned his season’s salary with this one game. Forget his paltry career numbers. They mean nothing in his case. It is all about timing with Horry. And rings, of which he has five.

If the Spurs end up claiming their third championship in seven seasons, it will be in large measure because of the player who has been hitting big shots since his championship seasons with the Rockets. It will be because of Horry’s 21 points in the pivotal game of the series.

He took this game into his arms and would not let go until the Pistons ran out of responses.

Duncan is in line to be selected the NBA Finals MVP a third time.

If so, he would not be wrong in sharing it with Horry, at least symbolically.

It looms as the defining game of the series.

And it was Horry’s game. All his.

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