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Beyond the Stars
Chris Ballard
June 29, 2005
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June 29, 2005

Beyond The Stars


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IT'S A sticky Sunday evening in June in San Antonio, and after a long weekend of waiting and Riverwalking, the Spurs and the Pistons are finally readying for Game 2. Outside the SBC Center a thousand Manu Ginobilis mill about. There are rowdy young men in Ginobili jerseys, face-painted women in Ginobili jerseys, fat-bellied fathers in Ginobili jerseys leading duckling trails of little boys in Ginobili jerseys. One man wears a shirt that reads GOT MANU?; another has a black T-shirt with a giant reproduction of Ginobili's face. The Ginobilis are joined by a smaller contingent of Tony Parkers, a sizable cadre of Tim Duncans--including one man who has forsaken a shirt and just painted a number 21 Duncan jersey on his back--and the odd David Robinson. There are not, however, any Nazr Mohammed jerseys to be found. Neither are there any little Robert Horrys wandering the parking lot or T-shirts embossed with the scowling mug of Bruce Bowen.

This does not mean these players are not appreciated, though. The Spurs may be a team dominated by three men (Duncan, Ginobili and Parker scored 63.6% of the team's offense during the playoffs), but it is the role players, the Benos, the Big Dogs, the Bowens and the Brent Barrys, who made sure everything ran smoothly during these playoffs, each taking a turn at coming up big when needed. Think of them as the behind-the-scenes techies--rarely celebrated, often far from the spotlight, but essential to the whole operation, clearing lanes for the stars to get to the basket, making extra passes when need be and hustling after the loose balls. "It is," says Mohammed, "all about team effort here."

It is a testament to the Spurs' cohesive nature that many of these role players commanded marquee billing in their former cities: Barry was a triple-double threat in Seattle, Mohammed averaged a near double double in New York, Horry was a starter for years with the Rockets, Glenn Robinson is a former All-Star who now plays only sparingly, and Rasho Nesterovic was a starter in Minnesota. That the players embrace their reduced roles in San Antonio (or at least accept them) is due both to coach Gregg Popovich--who preaches defense, discipline and team-first play--and to Duncan, because if your star buys into a system, other players are likely to follow suit. "If guys [like Duncan] listen," says Horry, "you can't do anything but follow the lead."

It's fitting that Horry would say that, because he is the definition of a postseason role player. He's merely mediocre in the regular season (7.5 career scoring average) and often doesn't start in the playoffs, yet he does whatever's asked of him--guarding everyone from centers to small forwards. More important, he isn't afraid to take big shots. Of course, it helps that he often makes them, which has earned him a variety of nicknames for postseason marksmanship. Most know him as Big Shot Rob, but Pistons forward (and good friend) Antonio McDyess prefers a different moniker. "I call him Playoff Horry," says McDyess. "Every time you look up, he's knocking down threes in the playoffs."

In a career that has spanned four teams, 13 years and six championships (two with Houston, in 1994 and '95; three with the Lakers, in '00, '01 and '02; and now one with the Spurs), Horry has become something of a postseason totem. During the Detroit series the fans at the SBC Center would start cheering in anticipation before he even shot the ball. And what a shot he has, a methodical, herky-jerky, stiff-kneed three-part process: step into the shot, hoist the arms in an exaggerated motion, then follow through dramatically. By the end of the series against the Pistons, however, he'd hit more from beyond the arc, 53, than anyone in Finals history. (He surpassed Michael Jordan, who has 42, in Game 3.)

Horry's dagger threes are the stuff of legend. Asked to name his most memorable, he rattles them off, as if talking about vintage wines. "Well, one of my favorites is the one I made against San Antonio [as a Laker, in '02]. I was 2 for 8 in that ball game. That one, the one in Portland [in '02] and of course the one against Sacramento. Those are the best. The ones you hit as time expires."

Ah, yes, who can forget the one against the Kings in Game 4 of the Los Angeles- Sacramento series in 2002? That time Horry nailed a shocking walk-off three to give the Lakers a 100-99 victory and even the series at 2-2. In the timeout just before the shot, teammate Lindsey Hunter had said, "It's time for Big Game Rob to take over."

Lest Horry be known only as a gunner, he has also made a name for himself as a versatile defender, first in 1995 while with Houston, when he asked to guard Charles Barkley. Later he bodied up against everyone from Chris Webber to Duncan. For the Spurs he was asked to shut down Rasheed Wallace in the Finals, one of the toughest covers in the league because of his high release. Not only that, but Horry made the little plays: In Game 2 he had four steals and changed the momentum of the game. (A little-known fact is that he holds the Finals record for steals in a game, seven, against Orlando in 1995.) Afterward a grinning Popovich could only shake his head in amazement at the 34-year-old Horry. "He looked like he was 26 or 27," said Popovich. "He summons up the energy for that every once in a while."

That's the perfect description, for Horry often appears as if he's trying to expend the least possible amount of energy when playing: never running when he can amble, never wasting a drop of sweat. Call it judicious or--as was his reputation when he came into the league--a tad lazy, the Spurs don't care so long as he's effective.

"He's a guy who makes his teammates calmer, knowing that he's going to do something in most games, especially in the playoffs" says Ginobili. "Sometimes it's not a big shot. Sometimes it's just a block, a rebound, a steal or [taking] a charge. He always does something that's going to help this team win." As for why he's so effective in the playoffs, the laid-back Horry has a hard time explaining it, though he does have some interesting theories. "It's the warm weather," he once said. "I heat up with the weather. I hate it when it's cold, man."

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