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For Horry, points carry emphasis

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- For one fleeting moment late in overtime, Robert Horry feared he would miss a shot, so he prayed, ''Please, let me get there. Please, let me get there." Horry was not worried about the decisive 3-pointer he hit with 5.8 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but the lefthanded dunk that preceded it. He made what should have been an easy dunk difficult by taking off a little too far from the basket.

But when the pressure was greatest and the game hung in the balance, Horry never hesitated. He put up the fateful 3-pointer after Detroit's Rasheed Wallace rushed to double-team Manu Ginobili in the left corner. Horry handled it as though he always takes clutch, late-game jumpers on the biggest of stages. Well, he kind of does.

By hitting that shot, which gave him 21 points in the final 18 minutes, Horry sent the Spurs home with a chance to wrap up the title tonight -- and added to his growing file of heroics.

No one has made more 3-pointers in Finals history than Horry. With five in Game 5, Horry pushed his total to 49. He went 5 for 6 from 3-point range, improving to 11 of 22 in the series.

It's clear why Horry earned the nickname ''Big Shot Bob" and why he has five championship rings (two with the Rockets, three with the Lakers). He'll try to win a sixth tonight in Game 6 at the SBC Center in San Antonio.

''It's the playoffs, man," said Horry. ''If you don't get excited about the playoffs, you don't even deserve to be playing basketball. I get excited for the regular season also, but it's added excitement when the playoffs start."

Undoubtedly, Tim Duncan was the most relieved player on the court when Horry nailed his final 3-pointer. Despite 26 points and 19 rebounds, Duncan would have been blamed for a Spurs loss. After Horry hit a 3-pointer with 1:17 left in regulation for an 88-87 lead, Duncan squandered a chance to extend the advantage when he missed a pair of free throws.

A driving layup by Chauncey Billups -- who also is nicknamed ''Big Shot" by his teammates -- returned the lead to the Pistons, 89-88. Duncan stepped to the line again and missed his next free throw. But he did come through with the foul shot that tied the game, 89-89, which is where it stood after Duncan missed a tip shot as time expired in regulation.

With a 3-2 series lead in hand, Duncan was unusually candid about his fourth-quarter failures. He called his play an ''absolute nightmare" and said Horry ''pulled me out of an incredible hole that I put myself in." Then he good-naturedly chided his teammate, who did not have a single point in the first half.

''I tell you the deal with Rob," said Duncan. ''Rob just hangs out the entire game. He does it all season long. He doesn't do anything. He doesn't feel like playing. He shows up sometimes and then you put him in the fourth quarter in a big game, whether it be regular season or the playoffs, and he's like, 'OK, it's time to play now. I've been hanging out the entire season, it's time to play now.' And he just turns it on."

Duncan was joking, but it certainly seems as though Horry thrives in the closing minutes of big games. When asked about saving face for Duncan, Horry offered his own comedic take.

''Forget about Tim," said Horry. ''He needs to make his free throws."

On a more serious note, Horry added, ''It's a team effort. Guys miss free throws, like I missed a free throw [in overtime after hurting his shoulder on the dunk]. You can't pinpoint, from the people that missed theirs at the beginning of the half. You can't label, point out one aspect of the game. It's a total team effort and his fourth quarter was disappointing."

It was just the kind of generous statement expected from a role player, one whom San Antonio actually saved for the postseason. The Spurs signed him on July 24, 2003, after he finished the poorest playoff run of his career, with the Lakers, believing fewer minutes in the regular season would pay dividends later.

''I just thought he wore down," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. ''I thought he played too many minutes in LA in his final year and he just didn't have anything left at that point.

''So we decided because of his leadership, because he's going to have a summer to rest, if we guarded his minutes, he might be able to be really helpful to us in playoff situations. So, we kind of limited him during the year."

Now, do the Pistons have anything left for the Spurs or have the defending champions drawn from their well of resiliency too much? If Detroit cannot snap its 10-game losing streak in San Antonio, the NBA will crown a new champion tonight. And Horry will add another title to his resume.

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