Robert Horry, known by the cognoscenti as "Big-Shot Rob," traded haymaker baskets with Chauncey Billups, the player who goes by "Mr. Big Shot," until one clutch player was left to raise his arms toward the rafters.
There were 11 lead changes in the final quarter, immaculate late-game execution. A pulsating finish. A cacophonous sound -- "DEE-troitBasket-BALL!" -- from the only crowd to ever will its team to three straight home victories in the NBA Finals.
And, at the end, quiet. Dead quiet at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the most thrilling basketball game since Michael Jordan stole a series and the game from Utah in 1998 took place on Sunday night.
Horry's turn-back-the-clock night at age 34 -- his three-pointer from the left wing with 5.8 seconds left that hushed an arena and a state -- ensured that the home court of the Detroit Pistons will go down as the place where the league irrevocably changed this season -- for worse and, finally, for better.
After all the madness in this building since Nov. 19, the Palace of Auburn Hills will be historically remembered more for a classic NBA Finals game than the most violent altercation between players and fans at an American sporting event.
"That's the greatest performance I've ever been part of," Tim Duncan said of Horry's miraculous 21 points in the final 17 minutes 1 second of San Antonio's victory over the crestfallen Pistons, 96-95.
"To be a part of that was something, wasn't it?" Gregg Popovich said afterward, standing in the entry way to the locker room, almost stunned by what had transpired 30 minutes earlier. "I don't remember being a part of something like that."
A Cuban woman in a No. 11 Bruce Bowen jersey strode down the arena's aisle after the game, chanting, "Horry trene cinco anillos campeonatos." Or, "Horry has five championship rings." Yes, Bowen's mother-in-law, Margarita Barbon, is right. Horry has five championship rings and he is working on becoming only the second player in league history to win one with three different teams.
Some of the game's longtime observers likened this classic to Phoenix's three-overtime win at Chicago in the 1993 Finals, a game after which Charles Barkley declared, "God wanted us to win." More recently, a 35-year-old Jordan seized the ball and hit the shot in Game 6 at Utah, silencing a team and a state the way Horry did this evening.
Billups was brilliant, playing 44 minutes and scoring 34 points -- 12 coming in the final quarter and overtime. He kept making these degree-of-difficulty layups and jumpers in the lane, with bodies draped all over the stocky, diminutive Detroit point guard.
Since Nov. 19 of last year, this team and this building have dominated the league's story line. The Indiana Pacers still believe if not for the brawl with fans and the season-long suspension of Ron Artest, they, not the Pistons, would be in the finals. In one way or another, the entire NBA season was essentially decided on this court.
From fans dumping beer on players and squaring off with them, to this physical, resilient team coming back in each of their last three playoff series, the Palace of Auburn Hills has hosted the good, the bad and the hideous of the NBA. On Sunday night, a classic unfolded and injected life into a series defined so far by blowouts and abysmal ratings.
Bowen was masterful, bodying up Billups on the final Detroit possession in regulation and forcing him to miss an off-balance layup. Duncan nearly became the biggest finals goat since Karl Malone missed two pressurized free throws in Chicago that would have sent the Jazz home with at least a split of the first two games in 1997. He missed six of his final seven free throws, missed his last three shots and committed a turnover in overtime. The Spurs, of course, would not be heading home needing one win to dethrone the Pistons and take their third title in seven years if not for his 26 points and 19 rebounds.
But if he's honest with himself, he knows: Horry bailed him out, the way Horry bailed Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant out with clutch three-pointers during the playoffs, the way he also was instrumental in two championships for Houston.
Why Rasheed Wallace left Horry on the last play is anyone's guess. Maybe he thought Horry was too old to make that shot again, maybe he thought Manu Ginobili, who he rotated toward, was more of a threat. Whatever, if there was a goat, it was 'Sheed. He did not stay home on his home court at the exact moment the Pistons needed him to sweep the three home games of the Finals for the second year in a row.
In the final seconds, the entire building had left its seat. Fans, media, players -- they were all standing, awaiting the end of an heirloom. If his shot shook San Antonio, Horry sent 22,000 people home in Detroit shellshocked on Sunday night. A lot of them left this building exactly seven months ago today feeling the same way, that they could not believe what they just saw.
For the NBA's sake, this game far outweighs that unsightly brawl on Nov. 19. The NBA was decided in this building this season, and after Game 5, no one will forget it.