Spurs 96, Pistons 95
A series that had been devoid of suspense finally offered a thriller, an instant classic with plot twists galore. A superstar out to prove that he truly was dominant rose to the occasion early only to experience an epic meltdown. A grizzled veteran in search of his sixth championship ring proved once again why he earned the nickname "Big Shot Rob." And a player out to take the throne as "Mr. Big Shot" carried his team for most of the night but was a spectator when the final shot bounced off the glass, to the right of the rim.
Robert Horry scored 21 points and nailed a three-pointer with 5.8 seconds left in overtime as the San Antonio Spurs seized a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series with a 96-95 win over the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills. As a stunned crowd looked on, Horry bounced toward the jubilant Spurs players on the bench, where Tim Duncan embraced him. Duncan held on to Horry tight, not only because he had lifted the Spurs to victory, but he also helped Duncan avoid the ignominy of being the goat in the most important game of the season.
"That was probably the greatest performance I've ever been a part of," Duncan said of Horry, who was 5 of 6 from beyond the three-point arc and scored all of his points in final 17 minutes 1 second of the game. "He pulled me out of an incredible hole that I put myself in."
Duncan finished with 26 points, 19 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, but the Big Fundamental played with a Big Funky Mental down the stretch. "An absolute nightmare, yes," said Duncan, who didn't hit a field goal for the final 9:46, missing his final three shots -- including an open layup that could've ended the game in regulation -- and six free throws and committing a costly turnover in overtime. But Horry -- owner of five championship rings from his time with the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers -- bailed out Duncan and the Spurs, scoring the final five points of the game.
"I would say that there have been a lot of guys who have played incredible in the NBA Finals," Horry said. "I don't know, my second half probably ranks probably 25th, somewhere down there."
The Pistons led 95-91 when forward Rasheed Wallace nailed a turnaround jumper over Duncan with 1:41 left. Horry soared for a driving, left-handed dunk over Detroit's Richard Hamilton. "I said, 'Please let me get there. Please let me get there,' " Horry said laughing. Then, after a string of poor possessions for the Pistons, Horry knocked down an open three-pointer after Wallace left him to double-team Spurs guard Manu Ginobili in the corner.
"I guess there was a miscommunication, but ultimately, it's on me," Pistons Coach Larry Brown said. "After it was over, we still had a chance. But up two, with nine seconds to go, you talk about the things all year that you want to accomplish, and unfortunately we had a little miscommunication. You know, if everybody gets it, then you know you don't get in that situation. If everybody doesn't, it ultimately falls on me, so obviously, we didn't get it."
Richard Hamilton (15 points) took the final shot for the Pistons, an off-balance jumper that didn't hit the rim. Spurs forward Bruce Bowen grabbed the rebound, pointed toward the ceiling and stormed into the tunnel.
Chauncey Billups had a game-high 34 points for the defending champion Pistons, who won the middle three games of the Finals against the Lakers last season, winning the NBA championship in five games. But they are in danger of surrendering the title as the series heads back to San Antonio, where the Spurs have a chance to win their third title in seven years in Game 6 on Tuesday. The Pistons have lost 10 straight games in San Antonio.
"The series is not over," Pistons center Ben Wallace said after scoring 13 points with 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. "We still got a lot of fight and you're not going to lose confidence by one game."
Trying to get a grasp on this series had been next to impossible, with the first four games ending in blowout victories for the respective home teams. But for Game 5, the Spurs and Pistons increased the intensity, with neither team willing to surrender.
The Spurs tried to bury the memory of last season, when they led the Lakers 2-0 before losing the next four games, including a crushing loss in Game 5 on their home floor, when Derek Fisher sank a no-look jumper with 0.4 second left. Coach Gregg Popovich said their two losses here were "more about what's between the ears and what's in the chest." They didn't always play smart Sunday night, but the Spurs played with more heart.
With momentum back in their favor following two lopsided wins, Billups guaranteed that the effort, if nothing else, would be there in the Pistons' final home game of the season; that a letdown was impossible. In the final period, the Pistons appeared to play with more tenacity and kept possessions alive by fighting harder for offensive rebounds. Billups was determined to do whatever he could to give his team a boost on the offensive end. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, and with the game tied at 89 -- after Duncan sank one of two free throws with 33 seconds remaining -- the Pistons put the ball in the hands of Billups.
The Spurs placed their best defender, Bowen, on Billups and he forced Billups into an awkward shot that bounced off the backboard. "I got a good look at it, just could not get it down," Billups said.
With 16 seconds left, Ginobili dribbled down the clock and drove to the basket and missed a runner over Ben Wallace off the glass. With no one standing in front of him, Duncan charged for the hoop and missed the tip that could've decided the game. As the game shifted to overtime, Duncan placed his fists against his mouth in disbelief.
"I had the chance," Duncan said. "It didn't go down, and the overtime, we continued to play. We just knew there was a lot of possessions to be had. Guys were just impressive all around, Tony Parker, Manu continuing on the attack. And of course, Bobby."