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NBA PLAYOFFS LAKERS VS. SAN ANTONIO GAME 2, TONIGHT
AT SAN ANTONIO, 6:30, TNT | Bill Plaschke

Horry's Touch Gets Lost in the Moment

May 07, 2003|Bill Plaschke

SAN ANTONIO — The miracles don't just fall out of his pocket anymore, his digging and scrounging producing only scraps and lint.

The final seconds don't bounce into his hands anymore, his journey there having left him with thick legs and sweaty palms.

And so it is that after practice Tuesday, with nobody looking and everybody looking, Robert Horry is shooting three-pointers.

Good. Good. Miss.

"Bleep!" he shouts.

Good. Good. Miss.

"Got to put the ball right, you bleep!" he shouts.

The cries carry through the nearly deserted SBC Center like the shouts of a man stumbling out of a cave, the weary frustration as strange on Horry as a frown.

"I still have that I-don't-care-about-pressure attitude," he says later, ice on his knee and dark stains on his shirt. "But you get bombarded with those 'miracle' questions so much, you start to think about it more."

The entire Laker nation is thinking about it these days, wondering when -- or if -- their last-second savior will show up again.

He is the author of some of the most resounding moments in this Laker dynasty, three-pointers that have won games and saved seasons and cemented championships.

Yet, so far, his play this postseason has been mostly unintelligible.

The man shooting 39% lifetime on playoff three-pointers has made two of 23.

That's only one more than he made last season in the last second to beat Sacramento in Game 4.

Only one more than he made earlier in that postseason to clinch the series against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Only one more than he made late in a championship series game in 2001 in Philadelphia.

Seven games, two three-pointers, 11 turnovers, rising oooohs that disintegrate into awwwws.

The miracle these days is being able to stop Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan. His final seconds are usually spent searching for breath. The magic would be if he were able to become the old Robert Horry in time to save this new mission.

With the Lakers playing the Spurs tonight in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals -- trailing one game to none and missing both small forwards -- that time needs to be now.

"Maybe I'll go back to my Houston days, become a [small forward] again, pick up the slack," Horry says with a smile.

He probably will do some of that. He probably will have some help guarding Duncan. He probably will be reminded by teammates that they still believe.

But what he won't have is enough rest, seeing as how the Lakers have basically been reduced to two usable reserves.

And, even more bothersome, Robert Horry won't have a respite from being Robert Horry.

He says that last year's shot against the Kings didn't change him, but it changed the world around him. His jersey became one of the club's hottest sellers. His name consistently drew some of the loudest cheers. In the championship sentence written by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, Horry became the exclamation point.

To which Horry replied, "Huh?"

He's not a star. He never wanted to be a star. He's a character actor. He's a background guy. He's the best friend.

He doesn't do scenes, he does moments. He isn't comfortable at the front of the parade, he's happier hanging out in the back, with the bass drums, waiting to shake the store windows with one big bang.

He is beloved by the media for his unaffected shrugs, his goofy smiles, his claims that he plays better in spring because, "when the hockey season is still going on, there is ice under the floor at Staples Center, and my legs get cold."

Robert Horry loved living in a world that existed somewhere between shadow and surprise.

Then suddenly people are showing up with his name on the backs of their jerseys?

"I can understand how he feels the pressure," says Derek Fisher. "But I know he has the intelligence and savvy to deal with it."

If only he could say the same about the legs.

Last spring, Horry prompted the sort of buzz that usually surrounds emerging stars, leading the Lakers to admittedly overlook that he was, instead, a 32-year-old veteran heading into his 11th season.

The Lakers knew that it might be time to get younger at Horry's position. But, because they won a third consecutive championship after Horry's shot, they also knew there was no way they could trade him, and who could blame them?

This is how dynasties usually end up with teams that should have been broken up. Good organizations, though, do not abandon the loyalty that made them champions. Good organizations understand that before changes can be made, sometimes that loyalty must be allowed to lead to defeat.

When he equaled a career low by shooting only 39% during the regular season, fans hoped it was the same old hibernating Horry.

So far, though, he is shooting worse in the playoffs, 34%.

The Spurs chose to leave him alone on several occasions Monday night. Only once in six tries did he make them pay. He will be left alone again tonight. He will be challenged to come up with the magic. He will dig into those pockets and hope.

"I'm getting my shot in the air, I'm putting it on line, it's just not going in," he says. "I feel fine. I feel strong. It's just not going in."

Sometimes it looks as if it never will.

Then again, on a Sunday afternoon against the Kings last spring, it looked as if the Lakers would never come back and win another game or another championship.

A missed shot is being tipped out toward Robert Horry again, out beyond the three-point line again, somewhere between a hope and a fear, a beginning and an end.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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