Best ever? Horry fits role perfectly

Updated: June 21, 2005, 12:30 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS. Mich. -- Nickname confusion abounds. It's supposed to be Big Shot Rob, even though everyone's using Big Shot Bob. Except for Tim Duncan, who teasingly prefers Big Shot Bobby.

Let's try to make this easier.

Robert Horry?

Just call him the greatest NBA role player of all time.

If that title didn't already belong to the man who has risen from benches and dormant regular seasons to help two Hall of Fame centers collect five championships, this has to hush any debate. Has to. Nominate anyone else you wish. No one as far down the star scale as Horry has been this steely cool and clutch in playoff crunch time for so long and so often and in so many different uniforms.

All he did Sunday night, in the biggest and greatest game of this NBA season, is weave together an Horry Story even longtime Big Shot Rob-watchers struggled to believe.

All he did was:

  • Hit the triple that sealed San Antonio's stirring 96-95 overtime triumph in Game 5 of these previously numb NBA Finals, giving the Spurs two chances to grab the one victory they need for ring No. 3 of the Duncan era ...

  • Which was preceded by a magical spree of 15 points that rescued Duncan from a spot in the Greg Norman-Jana Novotna-Yankees vs. Red Sox pantheon of choke jobs, after the two-time Finals MVP missed six straight free throws to start the fourth quarter ...

  • All of which somehow spared the Spurs from a more painful ending than a fairly memorable Game 5 from a year ago. An ending all of San Antonio knows simply as the Oh-Point-Four.

"That was probably the greatest performance I've ever been a part of," Duncan said. "He pulled me out of an incredible hole that I put myself in."

Yup. This form of Game 5 torture would have been worse than Derek Fisher flinging in a jumper with four-tenths of a second remaining, which trumped Duncan's own prayer late in Game 5 of Lakers vs. Spurs last spring.

Far worse.

For this would have been self-inflicted torture, thanks to Duncan's Oh-For-Six misery at the line before he finally dropped a fourth-quarter free throw.

Instead of Duncan having to live with all that, Detroit came away with the suffocating heartache, in what might have been Larry Brown's last home game coaching the Pistons.

Instead of Duncan having to live with another 2-0 lead turning into the death knell of a 3-2 deficit, he could be seen planting a Saved My Butt hug on Horry after the dagger with 5.8 ticks left in Sunday's extra frame. Rasheed Wallace made the mistake of trapping Manu Ginobili in the corner, leaving an all-alone Horry time to set his feet from one of his favorite spots and then add to his collection.

That collection includes the long treys for L.A. that nudged Shaquille O'Neal past Sacramento (2002 West finals) and Philly (2001 NBA Finals).

It includes the shotmaking and great grunt work he used to give Houston, too. Surely you haven't forgotten that Orlando series when Hakeem Olajuwon schooled Shaq ... and when Horry flung himself amid the behemoths by raising his regular-season scoring average nearly eight points per game in the Finals (10.2 ppg to 17.8 ppg).

"As funny as it seems, it's how it is," Duncan said of Horry's reputation for snoozing through 82 games, and then igniting in May and June.

"He doesn't show up, doesn't feel like playing until it's a big game."

On this night, Horry didn't do anything for a half. He missed so many drives to bucket, it looked as though Horry couldn't finish a sentence.

Then he blipped onto the screen to sink a 3-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer, for a hint of what was coming.

By game's end, he was so good that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had him rushing back in for Nazr Mohammed just 17 seconds after Mohammed won the jump to start OT.

It wasn't just the triples. Horry also managed to mix in a huge rebound basket during his fourth-quarter flurry and an even better dunk in OT. Taking off way farther than he should be, at age 34, Horry managed to slam through with his left hand with 1:25 to play, despite aggravating a shoulder problem in the process. Despite carrying five fouls.

He missed the ensuing free throw, but the shoulder healed in time for the heroics.

"He did everything," Brown said. "That's why I think he has five rings.

"He usually does it at the most important time."

Said Chauncey Billups, known in Pistons Nation as Mr. Big Shot: "He was big, man. There's nothing you can really say. He was unbelievable."

There actually is something you can say.

Defining "role player" is always fuzzy, but I'd take Horry over any name you want to throw at me. He's more dependable than Dennis Rodman. More versatile than Michael Cooper. More prolific than Bobby Jones, Vinnie Johnson or even two of my all-time favorites: Don Nelson and Steve Kerr, who share a combined 10 rings.

Bill Walton, quite a role player himself on the '86 Celtics and a witness here Sunday night, urged me to go with John Havlicek. But Havlicek, on this scorecard, is too starry to be a role player.

"Either way, that doesn't take away from what I believe was one of the great clutch performances of our lifetime," Walton said. "Horry took this team and put them on his back. He may not have the most talent out there, or the most athletic ability, but he was the best player on the floor when it truly counted."

Walton continued: "He just guaranteed the San Antonio Spurs their third championship since 1999 and Tim Duncan's first without David Robinson."

Detroit still has a Game 6 and maybe even a Game 7 to prove otherwise, but Horry has nothing left to show us. No player of his stature, with even career playoff averages (8.9 points and 6.1 rebounds) that border on pedestrian, continually makes ring-worthy plays like he does.

"He's Big Shot Bob," Duncan said. "He does whatever he wants to do."

"You can make it Rob," Horry countered. "R-O-B. But B-O-B, that's not me."

You can also make it Best Role Player of All-Time. And you should.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics