We thought we'd already seen the best of Robert Horry when he left Los Angeles two summers ago. Thanks for the magical moments, it was fun, you've had a great career.
It turns out he had something better in store.
Forget the Sacramento and Portland series in 2002, the NBA Finals in 2001 or anything else on the long list. Never before has Horry hit so many shots over one span, never has he carried a team through crunch time the way he did in San Antonio's series-changing 96-95 overtime victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals Sunday night.
Horry scored 18 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including, of course, the winning three-pointer. That's as many points as he had scored the entire game on the day he made the winning shot in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Sacramento in 2002. He hadn't scored 18 points in a playoff game since.
Never have his services been needed this desperately. When he was with the Lakers, Shaquille O'Neal was dominating and Kobe Bryant could usually handle most of the fourth quarter heroics himself.
This game was turning into an indictment of the Spurs' two superstars.
Manu Ginobili was two for seven in the fourth quarter. Tim Duncan was three for seven from the field and one for seven from the free-throw line.
You could summarize their performance in crunch time with the final play of regulation, when Ginobili drove past Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace got a piece of his shot, the ball bounced off the front of the rim and into Duncan's hands, but Duncan couldn't guide it home from point-blank distance. Duncan held his fists to his mouth like a scolded student as he went to the bench to prepare for overtime.
The Spurs wouldn't have had a chance had it not been for Horry's revival. He missed his first four shots and had no impact on the game through the first 35 minutes and 59 seconds. Then he made a three-pointer with one second left in the third quarter. That was just the warmup.
He made a three-pointer to open the fourth quarter. Then, with the game hanging in the balance, with ties or lead changes on practically every possession, Horry stepped to the forefront. In the final four minutes he made a three-pointer over Rasheed Wallace, starting a binge of eight points in 3 1/2 minutes for Horry. He was fouled on an aggressive drive to the hoop and made both free throws. He tipped in a Ginobili miss to tie the score with 1:46 left and hit a go-ahead three with 1:17 left.
With a minute and a half left in overtime, Horry couldn't catch a bad pass cleanly enough to fire up a three-pointer. So he drove and threw down a left-handed dunk over Richard Hamilton, who had planted himself in the lane in an attempt to draw the charge. Hamilton was called for the foul. Horry missed the free throw, the one thing he did wrong in crunch time.
But he more than made up for it. With 9.5 seconds left in overtime and the Spurs down by one, Horry inbounded to Ginobili. Rasheed Wallace trapped Ginobili, who passed back to Horry, who had raced out to three-point range and set up shop. Inexplicably, the Pistons didn't rotate anyone over to Horry until it was too late and he had already cast a wide-open three that dropped through the hoop with 5.8 seconds left.
"Since I was shooting well, I wanted to let it fly," Horry said. "I'm the type of player, I want to win a game. I don't want to go to overtime."
He also doesn't worry if he makes it or misses it, even if he's having a bad game.
"You've got to have a smile on your face and enjoy the game, because there's a lot more serious things going on in this world than just playing the game of basketball," Horry said.
The one time we can recall him looking hurt was his next-to-last game in a purple uniform, when his attempt at a three-pointer to win Game 5 of the conference semifinals in San Antonio was one of the all-time in-and-out-heartBRRRRREAKS.
Horry made only two three-pointers in 38 tries that postseason, so it was no surprise the Lakers did not bring him back that summer, especially after they signed Karl Malone to play power forward.
Now the Spurs look smart for signing him in 2003
"I thought he wore down during the [2002-03] year," Spur Coach Gregg Popovich said. "I thought he played too many minutes in L.A. his final year and he didn't have anything left.
"But the way the league is going and the way people are playing, it's good to have a [power forward] who can shoot the ball and spread the court. I think he's still fairly young. It's not like he's 36 or 37. So we decided because of his leadership, because he's going to have a summer to rest, if we really guarded his minutes he might be able to be really helpful to us in playoff situations."
After playing 2,343 minutes his last season in Los Angeles, Horry has played 2,686 in two years in San Antonio. As a result, his playoff three-point percentage has actually surpassed his career mark of 35%. He's shooting 45% on threes this postseason and now holds the records for most career three-pointers in the Finals.
This last one just bailed out Duncan, who would have had this loss and potentially the series hung on him. Now the Spurs are up 3-2 heading back to San Antonio.
"He pulled me out of an incredible hole that I put myself in," Duncan said.
Apparently, they haven't made a hole big enough that Horry can't dig out of.
J.A Adande can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Adande, go to latimes.com/adande.