Game 5 awaited, and San Antonio could go one of two ways: Win and regain control of the series, or lose and face the necessity of reversing the momentum with two victories at home.
SPURS 96, PISTONS 95 (OT)
JUNE 19, The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit
When we finally got a game in this topsy-turvy series, it was a classic. It was as if all the drama, intrigue and pressure shots missing from the first four had been saved for this memorable Sunday night.
In the two off days that preceded the game, the big question for the Spurs was, How is Tim taking it? Consecutive mediocre games by the superstar power forward had led to an examination of his psyche, something Duncan is disinclined to deconstruct in public. "Usually when he gets into a situation like this, Tim comes back strong," said Bowen. "It's just that sometimes he takes a lot of the onus on himself for the way everybody plays." The Spurs were also determined not to let the Pistons' energy and physical play put them on their heels, as they had in Games 3 and 4. "We succumbed to their aggression" is the way Popovich had put it.
Accused of sometimes overthinking the game, Duncan came out hard in Game 5, taking eight first-quarter shots to get the Spurs an early lead. But his eight first-quarter points were matched by Ben Wallace, normally not a scoring threat. Duncan got support from his backcourt, Ginobili and Parker, but little else as the Pistons overcame a nine-point second-period deficit to tie the game 42-42 at halftime. It was obvious that someone from the Spurs' suddenly ineffective bench would have to step forward in the final 24 minutes.
Robert Horry, are you there? "I was mad at myself for the way I played [zero points and zero assists] in the first half," said Horry later. "I wasn't a very good teammate."
He wasn't much of one in the first 11 minutes of the third period, either. But with the Spurs down by two, Horry hit a three-pointer with nine seconds left to give San Antonio a 64-63 lead. Isolated occurrence? No, the start of something big. As Duncan turned cold from the foul line (missing six straight at one point) and Parker had trouble getting the Spurs into their offense, Horry went off, canning three treys, two free throws and a follow shot as the teams traded baskets.
With the score 89-89, Popovich still felt the best option was Ginobili, who found a path to the hoop and missed a layup. Duncan had a clear follow shot for the win but short-armed it, and the game went to overtime.
Surely even Big Shot Bob (he prefers Rob) had exhausted his supply of miracles by then. But no, with the Pistons up by four Horry drove toward the basket and threw down a thundering lefthanded dunk, drawing a foul, to bring the Spurs within 95-93 with 1:24 left. That shoulder had been sore throughout the season, and Horry winced in pain. Then he badly missed the free throw (with his right arm) that could've put San Antonio within one. But their defense tightened, and the Spurs had one last chance on a side out-of-bounds play with 5.8 seconds left. Popovich set it up for Ginobili. The shooting guard ran through a series of screens and got the ball on the left corner, where he was to operate one-on-one or work a pick-and-roll with Duncan. But Rasheed Wallace left his man to double-team Ginobili in the corner.
Guess who his man was?
It was Horry, who had made the inbounds pass, saw Wallace leave him and inched behind the three-point line. Ginobili immediately shoveled the pass back to him. Horry didn't hesitate: nothing but net. It was his fifth three-pointer and 21st point of the game. And when Hamilton missed a desperation jumper at the other end, it gave the Spurs a win in one of the most dramatic Finals games ever played.