AUBURN HILLS, Mich. Robert Horry hit the big shots, but the man who might have been the Spurs' MVP on Sunday didn't make any shots, or grab any rebounds, or block any shots.
Pop on top of Game 5
Instead, it was Gregg Popovich's adjustments, both before the game and during, that enabled the Spurs to recover from two one-sided losses and steal Game 5 in Detroit.
Popovich's first challenge was to eliminate the plague of turnovers that led to so many easy transition points for the Pistons in Games 3 and 4.
His two-pronged response was masterful. First, Popovich yanked backup point guard Beno Udrih from the rotation. With eight turnovers in 43 minutes, Udrih's miscues were playing right into Detroit's hands.
Popovich fed the Spurs their Xs and Os during the two days off before Game 5.
Instead, Manu Ginobili was his backup "point guard" in Game 5. Tony Parker played 45 of the 53 minutes, but when Parker went out it was the two-headed guard of Ginobili and Brent Barry that handled the ball and managed to keep it in the Spurs' hands most of the time.
At the same time, Popovich made a second adjustment he would not allow any Spur other than Parker to bring the ball up against Detroit's Lindsey Hunter. If Hunter guarded Ginobili, then Barry would bring it up. If Hunter guarded Barry, then Ginobili would bring it up. At one point, he even put Devin Brown in the game to bring the ball up because Hunter was matched up on Ginobili. Forced to play off the ball, Hunter couldn't force the Spurs into traps as he did the previous two games.
Popovich also adjusted the defense late in the game by switching Bruce Bowen onto Chauncey Billups, who was destroying Parker. But with Bowen on him in the game's final six minutes, Billups shot 1-for-5.
However, those moves by Popovich pale in comparison to one last adjustment that nobody is talking about but is easily the most important he stuck with Horry. It's easy to call this a no-brainer in hindsight, but that greatly underestimates what a difficult decision this was.
In the first half, Horry looked completely overmatched. He played 15 minutes without scoring, missed all three shots and looked terrified every time he went to the basket. The other Spurs had played extremely well, but the game was tied at halftime largely because Horry was keeping Detroit in the game.
If Popovich had yanked Horry after that dismal first half, nobody would have blamed him. Instead, he left Horry in position to do his thing. And when Rasheed Wallace had one of the greatest playoff brain cramps, leaving a sizzling Horry wide open at the 3-point line while he doubled Ginobili in the corner, it was Horry who was there to make Detroit pay.
"It was supposed to be a pick-and-roll with [Tim Duncan]," said Horry. "I saw Rasheed bite and I said, 'Oh, let me stay out here.' I just got the ball back, since I was shooting well I wanted to let it fly."
Horry's shot gave the Spurs a 3-2 series lead, so Popovich's reward for his move will in all likelihood be his third NBA championship. The changes he made to replace Udrih and avoid dribbling against Hunter certainly proved important. But sometimes it's the moves you don't make that are the best. Horry in Game 5 was a perfect example.
Robert Horry risked dislocating his shoulder on his amazing lefty dunk, but it was worth it no less clutch than his game-winning 3.
'Sheed's mistake will stay with Big Ben and Chauncey a while ... or until Game 6, anyway.
Rasheed Wallace had been rehabilitating his tarnished reputation for the better part of two seasons. He was working hard, playing defense and contributing to a championship team. All his teammates loved him.
"Maybe," we thought, "he isn't so erratic after all."
After Sunday night, we're no longer so sure.
On the most important play of Detroit's season, Wallace adlibbed a trap in the corner that left Robert Horry the same Robert Horry who had hit four 3-pointers after halftime wide open from his favorite spot on the floor.
What makes it so hard for Pistons fans to swallow is that Detroit had a two-point lead, so it needed only to cut off the 3-point line to be guaranteed at least a second overtime.
"You're up two with nine seconds to go, all you're thinking is, no three-point shots," said Larry Brown, who bravely tried to take some of the arrows undoubtedly headed for Wallace. "I guess there was miscommunication, but ultimately that's on me."
What he meant, apparently, was that he communicated one thing to Wallace, and Wallace decided to do another.
"If everybody gets it, then you know you don't get in that situation," said Brown. "Obviously, we didn't get it." Wallace's description of the play was even more baffling. "I decided to double Tim Duncan down low, but [Horry] got the ball back and knocked down the shot."
Memo to 'Sheed: That was Manu Ginobili you doubled, not Duncan. In the corner, not down low. And in doing so, you left open one of the most fearsome clutch shooters in playoff history as you ought to remember from your experiences with the Trail Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference finals.
As a result, Wallace's reputation as a flake has new life ... while the Pistons' repeat title hopes are nearly dead.
John Hollinger, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
It was Tim himself, not Big Shot Rob, who put Duncan in a position to celebrate, argues another Tim (Legler).
There are some who are going to say that Tim Duncan faltered near the end of the game and was saved by Robert Horry.
I think those people are nuts.
We're talking about a guy who went into a hostile arena where he hadn't had much success over the past two games and dominated.
We're talking about a guy who was aggressive like we haven't seen from him as he ripped down rebound after rebound.
We're talking about a guy who had more rebounds than Rasheed and Ben Wallace combined.
Does that sound like a guy who faltered?
Duncan had a monster game with 26 points and 19 rebounds, and while Horry will get all the pub because of his extraordinary game, it shouldn't overshadow the fact that Duncan was awesome. His eight offensive rebounds were amazing against one of the best and most athletic front lines in the game.
Let's not forget that Horry was in a situation to put them over the top because of Duncan's marvelous game.
Tim Legler, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
Rasheed Wallace can only look on helplessly after Robert Horry, left unguarded by 'Sheed, rises up for the killer blow.
When the ball leaves Robert Horry's hands in a playoff game, there's really only one thing you can say: "It's pretty. It's so, so pretty."
Robert Horry, San Antonio: Horry put the Spurs on his back and carried them to a Game 5 victory. He scored 13 points in the fourth, then converted a monster drive and slam and the clutch game-winning 3-point shot in overtime. Runner-up: Tayshaun Prince woke up in the fourth quarter and helped the Pistons rally. Prince sliced and diced his way to eight points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter and overtime period.
Play of the Day
Quote of the Night
Chris Ramsay, in Auburn Hills
Robert Horry scored 21 points in the Spurs' 96-95 overtime victory in Game 5 on Sunday night.
It was the 11th 20-point playoff game of Horry's career, but his first since 1997.
The span of 8 years, 45 days since Horry scored 21 points for the Lakers against the Jazz is the second longest in NBA postseason history between games of 20 or more points.
John Lucas went 9 years, 356 days between 20-point games (1977-87).
Elias Sports Bureau
Chauncey Billups is going to think about the Pistons' last possession in regulation, when it was 89-89. He ended up missing a layup when he was in a one-on-one situation with Tim Duncan on a switch.
To his credit, he finished the game with 34 points and was having his way with the opposing team's defenders. But in that situation you have to score and put your team up by two and force the Spurs to make a play with all the momentum on your side.
Instead he missed the layup and the game went to overtime, where the Spurs prevailed.
At this level this game is all about seizing moments when they present themselves. On the Spurs' side, we saw Robert Horry embracing the big moments, as usual, and winning this game.
On the Pistons' side, we saw Billups falter when his team needed him the most.
Tim Legler, in Auburn Hills
I can't say enough just how phenomenal Robert Horry was in this game.
This Spurs team was looking for someone to lead them down the stretch of this game and he stepped up big-time.
It's really easy to point out that he scored 21 of the Spurs last 35 points, and it's an amazing accomplishment that shows his offensive prowess when it's clutch time.
But to me it was the little things Horry did that really won this game for the Spurs.
In the fourth quarter Horry didn't just score 13 points, but he also dished out two assists and grabbed five rebounds, including four on the offensive glass. In the overtime period he grabbed two rebounds in addition to scoring five points, including the game-winning 3-pointer.
This was the type of performance that proves he's worthy of the nickname "Big Shot Rob." Today it was a pleasure to watch him play.
Greg Anthony, in Auburn Hills