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MONROE: Horry proves his worth once again

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 

LOS ANGELES

The Los Angeles Lakers were fortunate to get out of Game 4 of the NBA's Western Conference finals with a victory that keeps them from having to win three straight from the Sacramento Kings to have a chance to defend their back-to-back championships. They know it, and so does every honest person in Los Angeles County. Do not, however, call Robert Horry's game-winning 3-pointer lucky. The Lakers may have been fortunate Sacramento's Vlade Divac tipped Shaquille O'Neal's missed tip-in right into Horry's hands. But the shot, in Horry's words, was "money." Anyone who has followed Horry's career knew the shot was good the moment it left his hands. Horry has been making huge 3-pointers since Game 2 of the 1995 Western Conference finals, when he knocked in a triple that enabled the Houston Rockets to beat the San Antonio Spurs. There may be no player in the NBA you'd rather have taking a last-second 3-pointer with a big game on the line. Maybe that's why his teammates call him Big Game Rob. "It was just a rhythm shot," Horry said. "I got to take my hop, skip and a jump and my little 'short-leg' to kick it in ... and I got it in." Horry may be the perfect player to take such a shot. He does not care if he makes it or misses. He's just playing the game. Mind you, I don't mean Horry doesn't care about winning and losing. Indeed, he cares deeply. His four championship rings are all the evidence you need to see. What I mean is he won't agonize over his failures, which statisticians tell us will far outnumber the successes when attempting shots beyond 23 feet, nine inches. Sports psychologists charge hundreds of dollars per hour to help athletes learn to take conscious thought out of the physical routines of games. Horry, it seems, was born with a mind that goes blank in the tightest of spots. Someone asked Horry what went through his mind when he the ball landed in his hands Sunday afternoon. "Nothing," he said. "Nothing. Nothing. "You don't think. You just go out there and just play. You say, "Hey, give me the ball and I'm going to put it in." "Most guys, when they shoot the ball they think too much." And when you think too much, you hurt the team. Conclusion: there was nothing lucky about the game-winner once it left Horry's hands a fraction of a second before time expired, which it clearly did. Now, how Horry managed to end up with the opportunity to add another game-winning triple to his resume is another matter altogether. There was plenty of luck involved in that process. So much luck, in fact, you have to wonder if fate isn't on the Lakers' side as they attempt to win their third straight NBA title. How else can you explain the convergence of events that led to the ball landing right in Horry's willing, waiting, no-thinking hands with just 1.5 seconds left on the game clock, the Kings so tantalizingly close to a 99-97 win?
  • First, Kobe Bryant had to miss a contested, five-foot runner that would have tied the game and also left the Kings time for a last-second shot of their own to attempt to break it.
  • Then Shaquille O'Neal had to front-rim the kind of putback he rarely misses.
  • Mostly, Divac had to tip the ball straight out to Horry, who was stationed at the 3-point line, dead-on to the basket. There was straight-out dumb luck. "If you watch the whole play," Horry said, "I never moved. I said that I wanted that three so bad. I'm the type of guy I'm not going for a two. I'm going for a three to win the game. "As Kobe drove baseline he missed a shot. It looked good to my eyes. Then when Shaq got the rebound I said he is going to dunk it in, but it missed. "Vlade hit it out and I said, "Oh, (bleep), look what I got." I suspect 'Oh, (bleep)' is what Rick Adelman and most of the Kings were saying, too. Chris Webber had left Horry alone at the 3-point line to help out on O'Neal when Bryant missed his runner. In hindsight it seems a bad decision, but how could anyone expect the ball to get tapped perfectly out to Horry after a scrum under the basket involving at least six players? See, we're talking fate here. "I'm not saying the Lakers were lucky to win the game," Webber said. "But that was a lucky play. Horry shooting it was not lucky. That's a big-time player. But that was a lucky play. The coach didn't draw it up like that." Indeed, Lakers coach Phil Jackson hadn't drawn up a 3-point shot during the timeout that preceded the final play of the game. He virtually admitted Dame Fortune had to smile on his team to avoid a loss he had acknowledged would have been devastating to his chances of winning a third straight NBA title. "We got momentum on our side the whole (second) half and you could feel us coming back," Jackson said. "It was just that momentum that won. It was for whatever reason the bounce came our direction. It was just our momentum that carried us over the top, but I certainly didn't expect it to happen like that." The Lakers put themselves in position to get the win through tremendous defensive effort in the second half, which they commenced with a 14-point deficit. But they needed fateful intervention to put Horry at center stage yet again. Should the Lakers emerge from this series and win their third straight title, it will be Horry's shot that turned the tide of a series that had begun to slip from their grasp. Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address: mmonroe@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Rockets, Lakers, Kings, Robert Horry, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal

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