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Robert Horry is familiar with hitting big shots. But some shots are just bigger than others.
In Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, Horry hit what was probably the biggest shot of his career (which is saying something) and the biggest shot of the Lakers' season.
The Lakers were down 2-1 in the series to the Kings, and to that point looked like they were finally going to succumb to their rivals from the state capital. The Kings looked like the better team. They were younger and they were hungrier. After being bounced from the playoffs by this Lakers team in back-to-back seasons, who could blame them for wanting this one bad?
And by holding the lead in the series, the Kings were looking to put their foot on the necks of the incumbent champions. One more win would have given them their 3-1 lead and the inside track to the Finals. Even with the Lakers' championship pedigree, it would have been hard to see them winning three straight games (including two on the road). Not against a team as good as the Kings.
The game didn't start well for the Lakers. After the first quarter they trailed by 20. In the second quarter they'd cut into the lead some but still trailed by 14 at the half. In the third quarter the Lakers made another push and cut their deficit to seven, but the Kings still led going into the final quarter.
In that fateful fourth period, the Lakers clawed their way back into the game, but it looked like it may not be enough. No, in the closing seconds they still trailed by two and even though they had the ball, needing a bucket at the end isn't ideal.
After the Lakers took a timeout, they set up a play for Kobe to isolate from the right wing. He took the ball to the rim and pulled up for a half runner that missed long. Shaq, carving out space under the rim grabbed the offensive rebound, but in a rush to get up a shot, he short armed his put back and missed it. At that moment, the Lakers fate looked sealed.
As Shaq's shot fell off the rim, Vlade Divac tapped the ball out to the three-point line as the last seconds were ticking away. The Kings, it seemed, would get their win. Then the camera panned to a wide open Robert Horry waiting for the tapped ball to reach him. Like a perfect bounce pass, the ball went right into his hands and he went up in his shooting motion.
Right after he released the ball, time froze for me. I watched as the ball spun with its perfect backwards rotation. As the ball went towards the hoop, the buzzer sounded and the red light on top of the backboard went off. Slowly, the ball traveled as everything around me was silent. This shot would decide the game.
Then, the ball went through the basket. The Lakers won. Horry, turned and did this celebratory leap but with his arms down to his sides as his teammates mobbed him. The Kings walked off the court dejected, knowing they'd allowed some life to be breathed into their opponent. A 3-1 lead was now a 2-2 tie.
What a difference a shot makes. Robert Horry saved the Lakers' season and I'll never forget it.