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Monday, December 7th, 2009 at 11:56 am  |  46 responses

Decade’s Best: Playoff Shot

Robert Horry breaks the Kings’ hearts.

The most difficult part of organizing a ‘Decade’s Best‘ effort is figuring out what to call it. Several writers, Brad Graham especially, came up with great ideas about how SLAMonline could commemorate the past 10 years of basketball. In the end, there were so many things to talk about that we included not only the ‘Best’ but also the ‘Worst,’ ‘Craziest,’ ‘Most’ and a host of other categories preceded with superlatives. The plan is probably too bold and the scope is probably too large. But this decade of transition — from Golden Years to Lost Years to Rebirth — found itself deserving of two categories every day for the rest of 2009. That’s the plan, at least. For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s 50 articles before January 1.

Can something so broad have a single heading, like ‘Decade’s Best’? Well no, but that’s what we’re calling it until I think of something better. Buckle up!–Ed.

by Graham Flashner

The Back Story

Robert Horry averaged only 7 points over a 16 year-career. Not exactly Hall of Fame numbers, but come playoff time, something inside Horry snapped, and the man kicked his game up to historic levels. Horry had an unbelievable knack for hitting clutch three-point shots. In NBA playoff history, only Reggie Miller has more threes. In the NBA Finals, Horry leads all players with 53 threes, outshining even Michael Jordan’s 42.

During the regular season, Horry was an unassuming role-player, the kind of tough, resourceful guy who shunned the spotlight and did his grunt work while staying clear of the power struggle being waged by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

But on the afternoon of May 26, 2002, Horry did what Kobe and Shaq could not: save the Lakers’ season and their bid at a third championship. “The Shot Heard ‘Round L.A.” came in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Sacramento Kings. Others have made more spectacular shots, but few have come with so much on the line: Had Horry missed, the Lakers would’ve fell into a dreaded 3-1 hole against a team that had outplayed them in nearly every phase of the game — and hated them to boot.

What made the shot even more amazing was its serendipitous nature. Unlike other last-second heroics — LeBron’s three to beat Orlando in the ’09 Finals; Derek Fisher’s miracle .04 turn-and shoot to beat the Spurs in ‘04 — Horry was not designed to get the shot; his was a look-what-I-found stroke oRobert Horryf luck that he turned into legend- the legend of Big Shot Bob.

Context

By Game 4, L.A. was fraught. After nearly running the table in ’01 with a 15-1 post-season, the Lakers were in a fight for their lives. After splitting two games in Sacramento, the Kings dismantled the Lakers early in Game 3, racing out to a shocking 27-point lead and winning a playoff game in L.A. for the first time in their history.

The Lakers were getting screened-and-rolled to death by Chris Webber and Mike Bibby. Vlade Divac flopped and frustrated O’Neal in the paint. With sharp-shooting, slow-footed Peja Stojakovic sidelined, the Kings were a quicker, more aggressive team.

O’Neal had already derided Sacramento as the “Queens.” Phil Jackson had poked fun of the cowbells. This was a time when hating the Lakers had just become fashionable. The unheralded Kings, who have never played in the Finals, thought their time had arrived.

No one believed the demolition of Game 3 could be repeated. Surely, the Lakers wouldn’t fall behind by 27 again. They didn’t. Early in the second quarter of Game 4, the Lakers trailed by a mere 24. Faced with the ugly prospect of having to win three straight games against a Kings team that hadn’t lost three in a row all season, the Lakers tightened up. Bryant put the clamps on the hot-shooting Bibby, and by halftime, the Lakers deficit was 14. By the end of the 3rd quarter, it was down to seven. With 11.3 seconds to go in the 4th, after a missed free throw by Divac, the Kings’ lead was down to two, 99-97.

The Shot

The inbounds went to O’Neal, darting out to the arc. He tossed to Horry, shadowed closely at the top of the key by Webber. Horry handed the ball off to Bryant for a clear-out on the right side. Bryant easily shook Doug Christie as he drove hard to the hoop. He was met in the lane by Divac, who forced Bryant to take an awkward, twisting one-hander that clanked off the opposite side rim. Waiting underneath was Shaq, with a putback that would’ve tied the game. Divac, seemingly everywhere, and Webber, who’d left Horry to shore up the lane, forced the Diesel to rush the layup. It rolled up the rim and back, falling short.

“I think I got a hand up in (O’Neal’s) face and contributed to helping his miss,” Webber said later. “Vlade tipped the ball out, something at that time I probably would have done, all of us would’ve done, I’m sure.”

Not wanting to risk another offensive board, and hoping a teammate would be in position, Divac back-tapped the ball away from the basket. But the Kings were all clustered inside. The ball landed in the hands of Horry, left unguarded just beyond the arc, dead-center to the basket.

“You cannot think in a situation like that,” Horry said. “A lot of guys, when the ball is coming, sit there and look at the clock, then it makes you rush your shot. I was like, `If I don’t get it off in time, we lose. If I do, it’s money.’ I was just worried about getting my form and getting my money shot down.”

Webber raced out to the circle, desperately trying to get a hand in Horry’s face, but it was too late. The shot was money – nothing but net. The Staples Center crowd exploded. PandemoRobert Horrynium reigned. The series was even at 2-2. The Lakers would go on to win in a Game 7 overtime thriller, then sweep the Nets for their third straight NBA title.

After the game, a sullen Divac dismissed the shot as pure luck. Webber was more circumspect. “”Horry shooting it wasn’t lucky,” he said. “That’s a big shot. I have to give him credit. That’s a big-time player, but that was a lucky play.”

For my money, it remains the playoff shot of the decade.

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  • bryce paul

    like the idea.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Great shot. Also marked a new level in my hatred of any one NBA team. I’m a fan of the 2007-09 Lakers now, though.

  • http://slamonline.com/ niQ

    Good write up! That was quite the game to remember. Had the Kings beat the Lakers, I’m pretty sure they would’ve beat the Nets. Ah wells.

  • Statik

    The season that gave Jelani McCoy, Samaki Walker, and Mark Madsen all rings…my repressed hate has been reborn. Only feel good story was Mitch Richmond getting his at the end of his career and getting past the team he spent so many years with

  • Sparker

    i still like fisher’s

  • http://www.yamahyouth.com Gerwin

    Man, remember that one! Sitting in front of the TV with my brother, a die hard Laker fan. Around 6:00 am or something like that, no sleep and almost gone to work, but just enjoying this one, until the final seconds. Beautiful!

    BTW; I like the idea Ed.

  • a_whiteman

    Isn’t this the series that donaghy saved the lakers with 27ft in thr 4th of game 7? What a shot though, regardless of his numbers tha man should be in the hall

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    I co-sign the Hall of Fame comment. Took his job seriously, ultra-clutch Playoff performances, seven rings. What more credentials do you need?

  • http://www.michaelcho.com M Cho

    I still prefer Fisher’s 0.4 shot over the Spurs, but I’ll always remember the look in Horry’s eyes after he made that shot and spun around with his hands behind his back. Classic.

  • Piggy

    takes me back. i still have the LA Times and OC Register paper of this game

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    never mind that samaki walkers 3 at the end of 2nd qtr was way late

  • RV

    would shaq’s be the worst?

  • AlbertBarr

    As kings fan, this is the worst playoff shot of the decade. It was crushing.

  • james

    i jumped and hit my head on the ceiling when he hit that shot whoooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://slamonline.com Brad Long

    Brings back memories.

  • http://www.slamonline.com @vincecathomas

    This was really good Graham. Surprised you remember so much context.

  • http://www.eric32woodyard.wordpress.com Eric Woodyard

    I remember running up the street and yelling as loud as I could! All of my friends were laker haters and they thought the game was over with so I had to rub it in their face.

    This was a great choice!

  • http://double-technical.blogspot.com Zee!

    BAWSE!!!!

  • http://myspace.com/brandnew Bryan

    Horry was a beast in the playoffs. I don’t care what anyone says he was mvp of the finals when detroit played the spurs that year.

  • http://go2page3.blogspot.com Steven L.

    I was in Orlando on vacation eating at the NBA Restaurant. I was so upset when this play happened I threw my drink. I can’t stand Robert Horry.

  • Pingback: Decade’s Best: Playoff Shot | article, Digg, divac, game, history, money, nba, sacramento, spotlight | Ads News

  • http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3445/3357407353_c868c2d95c.jpg larrylegend

    HORRY all the way, biatch!!! the two vs. the kings…the 2005 finals#5…choose one! mhn, i remember SLAM’S top10 greatest r. horry playoff moments, so it’s no contest. horry is booked in my all-time team!

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    Can it be a coincidence that only hours after one of the worst nights of my life and on one of the most personally difficult Mondays of my working career that this moment is posted on SLAM? This series and that shot basically destroyed my enjoyment of the NBA for years and ruined one of the few pure things I had in life.

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    robert horry’s performance vs detroit in 05, esp game 5 was the most unbelievable ever. the dunk on rip, all those 3s that you just knew were going in. just amazing.

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    This is also a shot that potentially made Tim Donaghy’s friends a little bit richer.

  • O.R Paperstacks

    I get chills when i watch that. Damn near cry. Go Lakers.

  • Graham F

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    For any Lakers fan, I always thought this was one of those “I remember where I was when Horry hit that shot” moments. Funny thing was, my girlfriend hated the Lakers and was crushed when Horry hit that shot. Fisher’s shot against SA could’ve easily made this column; probably would’ve if L.A. had won the title that year.

    Fish’s shot came on the road and had zero margin for error. But there was something so magical and unexpected about Horry’s, and the fact that it was a three, not a two, and because it came first and remains, to this day, the ultimate Staples Center memory – I had to give it the nod.

  • UnRel

    i remember during the press conf.. rob was told about the ‘lucky shot’ quote by vlade.. horry replied.. ‘i’ve been doing this throughout my career, he better ask somebody’

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Not to take away from the shot–an incredible feat–but the Lakers/Kings series remains one of the worst officiating jobs in playoff history.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    In ANY sport.

  • don

    i’m starting to see why i hate kobe–it must be because he’s a laker. yeah, screw it, i just don’t like him, the lakers and the fans themselves. Ü

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    I think Sean Elliott’s shot on the Blazers back in the Spurs’ first title run has to rank up there. Especially since it was a much tougher shot than Horry’s.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    The Horry shot was great though. Yes, he was lucky that the ball bounced his way. But it’s not like he was doing a running, off-the-backboard fading away jumper or anything. It was a legit jumper, nothing fluke about it.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    What about Iverson’s exclamation mark step back jumper over Tyronn Lue back in 2001? It wasn’t a game winner, but in terms of significance, it’s definitely one of the biggest shots of this decade.

  • Adam

    Classic shot, but how did Shaq miss that put back?!

  • Graham F

    Shaq rushed that shot – and Divac definitely distracted him. Still, I wondered why Shaq didn’t just try and slam it. Maybe he was afraid to get fouled and have to tie the game with two free throws.

    @Joel: Sean Elliot’s shot was a keeper, but it’s considered more last decade than this one. I think, anyway.

  • Graham F

    Shaq rushed that shot – and Divac definitely distracted him. Still, I wondered why Shaq didn’t just try and slam it. Maybe he was afraid to get fouled and have to tie the game with two free throws.

    @Joel: Sean Elliot’s shot was a keeper, but it’s considered more last decade than this one. I think, anyway.

  • MagicChicken

    Graham, for what its worth, I remember the Kobe shot, and the Shaw shot, and I remember screaming because the refs didn’t call something. But the end was so good, it didn’t matter anyway! Also, you’re correct, because the Spurs’ first run was in 99

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=814908451&ref=nf The Last Kings Fan

    I was ten years old when he hit that shot. It was the first NBA game I ever watched from tip off to buzzer, every minute. And I hate him (and the Lakers) for it.

  • Yesse

    Now Fishers shot it the most difficult shot maybe ever in Nba history.Not this.0.4 seconds dude.

  • Jonathan

    Yes this was the shot for this decade. This was probably the greatest Laker game I’ve been to live at Staples Center. I’ve never heard a crowd erupt and louder than this one at Staples Center. I’ve been a Laker fan since showtime. This past decade heck I’ve been to at least 50 Laker games live at Staples Center. I was also live at Staples for the game when Kobe hit the game tying and game winning shots against the Suns in the 1st round in the 2006 playoffs. What a great decade it’s been for Laker fans. We have the team of the decade, best player of the decade in Kobe, and the best coach of the decade in Phil Jackson.

  • http://fdsjklf.com Jukai

    Cheap shot Rob. I was a fan before the Suns series.

  • Baguma

    rob gave me heart attacks so many times.

  • Gábor

    No words to describe that shot, really. Always loved Horry, since he was a Rocket. Unreal.

  • Baguma

    Robert Horror gave me heart attacks so many times

  • Sigurður Einar (Iceland).

    This was a great Shot and the shot that won the ring for the Lakers.
    And if he did make the shot in game 5 against Spurs in 2003 the lakers would have had 4 in a row.

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