Monday, June 20, 2005

"Horry"-Fying! Pistons Will Be Haunted By Defensive Lapse

Robert Horry, sticking his final dagger into the Pistons' hearts

I have not played organized basketball since I was 14 years old (I'm 41 now). I have never, ever coached the game. I haven't even played a pickup game in several years. I have never been a student of the game, have never been unusually wise to its theories, and have never purported to know all that much about the x's and o's beyond what any normal fan might know.

But there is one thing that even I knew when the Pistons were in a timeout with 9.5 seconds remaining in overtime of Game 5 of the NBA Finals last night:


Horry, who didn't score a single point until there was one second remaining in the third quarter, somehow found an empty telephone booth at the Palace and changed into his Superman costume. Well, maybe not, but he found his deadeye shooting touch, and he began raining three-pointers on the Pistons like a basketball-sized hail storm. Four of five he had hit, 18 points he had scored, and his shots were as clutch as clutch can get. Oh, how he was saving the Spurs time and time again, whenever it looked as if the Pistons might pull away and put the Spurs down 3-2. Forget Manu Ginobili. Disregard Tony Parker. Even Tim Duncan should have been brushed aside during the Pistons' timeout in that situation -- 9 seconds remaining and the Spurs down two, 95-93. A two-point basket, you could live with. A three-pointer was what you had to be worried about, because even though I am no basketball expert, as I indicated, even I know that three points, when you're up by two, can put you behind by one.

Especially when the hottest player, the player that has been sticking daggers into your heart throughout the fourth quarter and overtime, is on the floor, inbounding the ball.

So Horry tosses the ball in to Ginobili in the corner, and even though he is 30 feet from the basket, Rasheed Wallace tries a trap -- a weak trap, by the way -- and Manu does what even I -- the non-expert, you recall -- would do: pass it to the guy who has been hitting all those big triples. And Horry, probably scarcely able to believe his fortune, finds himself as alone as a guy who had a limburger and onions sandwich for lunch, and calmly drains a go-ahead trey as if he was tossing a penny into the Atlantic Ocean. Ballgame -- and maybe series.

The Pistons will be haunted by this breakdown in defensive fundamentals for longer than you want to believe. If coach Larry Brown didn't harp on his guys to keep a man on Robert Horry and be careful of the triple during that strategy session, then I'm a monkey's uncle. And I'm an only child, so you know what the odds of that one are. Yet just two seconds into the play, the only man that was left open was......ROBERT HORRY! It's enough to make a Pistons fan want to eat Ben Wallace's afro.

Hey, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has mental lapses, even veteran NBA players. But Sheed tends to have them more than others. From his ill-timed technical fouls to his maddening refusal to take the ball to the hole, Wallace's mind appears to be elsewhere in the most cataclysmic of times. Did you catch how he almost became the second coming of Chris Webber at the end of regulation? Snatching the rebound of Tim Duncan's missed put-back as time ticked away, Sheed tried to call timeout, even though the Pistons had none remaining. But unlike Webber's blunder in the '93 NCAA Championship game, the clock read 0:00.0 when he attempted such foolishness, so a technical foul wasn't called. How would that have been for a way to lose? Even Rip Hamilton, you could see, was beside himself. He rushed to Sheed, obviously unsure that time had expired, and was frantically telling him something like, "YOU IDIOT!! WHAT THE #$&% ARE YOU DOING?!!" Or words to that effect.

So having dodged that dart of a mental blunder, the Pistons appeared, several times, to take control in overtime. And every time they did, Robert Horry was there -- a put back, a drive, dunk and foul, and those irritating triples. Watching Horry launch from behind the arc, as hot as he was, was like watching a guy drive in for an uncontested layup: you knew it was going in. Yet during the most crucial play in a game full of them, Horry was abandoned by Rasheed Wallace all so he could try to trap a man 30 feet from the hoop when the Spurs still had a timeout left should Ginobili had gotten into some real trouble. OOPS!

No, the series isn't over. Yes, the Pistons seem to defy the odds, time and again, and do things that most people don't believe they can do. But this one is going to be awfully tough to bounce back from.

You don't have to be a basketball expert to see that.

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