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With a 93-91 loss at home to the Lakers last night, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs have been pushed to the brink of elimination for the second straight series.
This time around, needing three straight wins against the West's best regular season team, a comeback may simply be too tall of an order for Tim Duncan and the gang -- although we're certainly not ready to count them out.
But with the champs going to the brink, the time has come to reluctantly admit that a particular one of their members may be on the verge of his own ending as well.
I've tried time and time again to deny it both to myself and others throughout this season and playoffs, but it becomes clearer with each passing game: The conclusion isn't far off for Robert Horry.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
In the interest of complete disclosure, it bears mentioning that this comes from a long-time Horry fan (and apologist). The man still known to many as Big Shot Bob has always struck me with his ability to stay cool and hit the biggest shots under pressure. His modest deflection of praise and the incredibly secure state of mind that allows him to take the shots he has made has long been a source of intrigue. In fact, it was around this time a year ago that I wrote a column campaigning for Horry to gain a plaque in Springfield when all is said and done. I said as little as possible about the dangerous hip check to Steve Nash a few weeks later, and I've done everything in my power to largely ignore Horry's back screen that injured David West late in the series against the Hornets.
In between, I managed to spend the season shrugging off every possible sign of Horry's ongoing on-court decline with the old standby of "I'm an Horry fan. He'll hit big shots when the Spurs need him. I'm saying nothing bad about this guy."
But for some reason, all it took was one play in Game 4 last night to get everything to finally click the wrong way in my head. To force me out of denial and into seeing the situation for what it is at this point.
Midway through the first quarter, with the Spurs already trailing by a 20-8 margin, Tim Duncan stole a Laker pass and started a break for the Spurs. Down at the other end, Duncan threaded a beautiful two-hand bounce pass between two defenders to a cutting Horry on the right block. Horry caught the ball in a perfect position to either pull-up for a baby box jumper or power dribble once to the bucket for a lay-up or likely foul. Instead, he hesitated and forced the ball back to Duncan in traffic, who missed a contested runner in the lane. The play ended with Horry being whistled for a foul as Pau Gasol corralled the rebound.
It was just one play, but it seemed to epitomize all that has been wrong with Horry's game. Everything in Horry's motion seemed to be awkward, tentative and out of sync. Which is exactly how it has looked all year. For a guy who has made a career out of being smooth, it is a disconcerting sight. He doesn't look comfortable shooting the basketball at all, and when he does, the results have been awful. The ball doesn't seem to be rotating well coming off his hands, and his misses have gotten uglier over the course of the season. That would be a season in which Horry shot a career low 31.9 percent from the field and a season that he has thus far followed by shooting 20 percent from the field in the playoffs. His defense has been lackluster as well -- he isn't moving well laterally, and several of Horry's stints on the floor in the playoffs have turned into dunk-fests for the opposition. His game just seems to have the aura of being 'off' right now.
With Horry now 37 years old, it may be time for even some of his biggest supporters to admit that Big Shot Bob's game may not be coming back 'on' anytime soon -- or ever.
His contract expires at the end of this season, and it seems entirely possible that he won't be retained by San Antonio, which means that he could be finished. If that's the case, Horry will certainly receive his share of tribute in this space come summer time.
In the meantime, beginning to come out of Horry denial won't change my hope for the rest of the Western Conference playoffs: one more Big Shot Bob moment. He's earned the chance to go out gracefully.