PLAYOFF SERIES: NBA Finals; Spurs lead 3-2.
Being one loss away from elimination is not an unfamiliar situation for the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons. This time, however, there is no luxury of playing at home.
The Pistons will try to force the NBA Finals to a seventh game when they face the San Antonio Spurs.
In the first two games of this series, San Antonio won at home by a combined 36 points. A change in defensive strategy and a return to The Palace of Auburn Hills, however, was all it took for Detroit to completely reverse the tide with two easy wins.
But in pivotal Game 5 on Sunday night, San Antonio came away with a dramatic victory.
Robert Horry’s 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left in overtime gave the Spurs a 96-95 win and 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, and again proved why his nickname is Big Shot Bob.
Horry scored 21 points, all after the final second of the third quarter. Except for a 3-pointer to open the fourth, every single one of his points either tied the game or put San Antonio ahead.
“It’s Bobby Horry,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “He does whatever he wants to do. He’s Big Shot Bob.”
The loss put the Pistons in a dire situation: They haven’t won in San Antonio in 10 tries since April 2, 1997, and the Spurs are 45-5 at home this season.
But the Pistons have won nine playoff series over the last three seasons on the fuel of disrespect and disbelief. They’ve rallied from 3-2 series deficits twice in the last two years—in last season’s conference semifinals against New Jersey, and again in this spring’s Eastern Conference finals against Miami.
The finals have been tied 2-2 in 23 previous years, and the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win the title 17 times. The Game 5 loser most recently rallied to win in 1994, when the Houston Rockets defeated the New York Knicks twice.
Duncan finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds Sunday, but he missed six of seven free throws in the fourth quarter and a tip-in at the regulation buzzer. The two-time finals MVP didn’t score in overtime, missing both of his shots, and committed a turnover on an easy pass into the post with 56 seconds left.
“It was an absolute nightmare,” Duncan said. “It was real disappointing what I did out there. (Horry) pulled me out of an incredible hole that I put myself in. Everybody just kept on playing. We just kept on pushing through.”
Horry, a backup forward with five championship rings, carried the Spurs through the final minutes. He made five 3-pointers and added a dramatic dunk in overtime, when Duncan’s struggles and Tony Parker’s terrible defense on Chauncey Billups were threatening to sink San Antonio.
Horry scored the final five points of the game after Detroit took a four-point lead, and hit the winning shot when Rasheed Wallace inexplicably double-teamed Manu Ginobili in the corner in a gamble. Horry, who inbounded the ball to Ginobili, walked to the 3-point line, got the return pass and buried the open shot.
“I just got the ball back, and since I was shooting well, I wanted to let it fly,” said Horry, who surpassed Michael Jordan’s career finals record for 3-pointers earlier in the series. “I’m the type of player, I want to win a game. I don’t want to go to overtime. I’m always going to go for a 3.”
When Richard Hamilton badly missed his final shot for the stunned Pistons, Horry was mobbed by his teammates following the first close game of this series. The Spurs have two chances at home for one more victory to clinch their third NBA championship in seven seasons.
“You can’t go back and say shoulda, woulda, coulda,” said Wallace, who scored 12 points. “It was caught in the corner, and I just tried to double. Now we have a day and a half. We’re cool. Our spirits are still high. In order to win this series, you’ve got to win four games, not three.”
On Monday morning, Pistons coach Larry Brown refused to criticize Wallace in public—even though he reminded his players “about 25 times” to prevent the Spurs’ best clutch shooter from taking a 3-pointer.
“Ultimately, maybe we didn’t say it enough,” Brown said at the Pistons’ training complex before their flight to San Antonio. “That’s coaching. I just think it was a great player trying to make the right play. … I don’t want any one guy to take any (blame) personally. This is not track and field. This is a team sport.”
Game 7, if necessary, is Thursday.
“Our backs are definitely against the wall,” said Billups, who finished with a playoff-high 34 points but missed all three of his shots in overtime. “We’re going into a hostile environment and it’s win or go home.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Pistons - 2nd seed, Eastern Conference; beat Philadelphia 76ers 4-1, first round; beat Indiana Pacers 4-2, conference semifinals; beat Miami Heat 4-3, conference finals. Spurs - 2nd seed, Western Conference; beat Denver Nuggets 4-1, first round; beat Seattle SuperSonics 4-2, conference semifinals; beat Phoenix Suns 4-1, conference finals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Pistons - Hamilton, 20.1 ppg; Ben Wallace, 11.4 rpg; Billups, 6.4 apg. Spurs - Duncan, 23.6 ppg and 12.4 rpg; Parker, 4.4 apg.