The clutch gene, the killer instinct â€” even the players themselves struggle to articulate just what it is that allows them the level of focus and concentration necessary to make big-time shots under tremendous pressure. Whatever you want to call it, Robert Horry had it in spades. He was an assassin; he had ice water in his veins; he laughed in the face of pressure. He also turns 43 today.
Still, it’s hard to know just where he belongs in the pantheon of all-time greats. Some call him one of the best clutch shooters the NBA has ever seen, while others dismiss him as one of the most overrated and/or luckiest players in league history; the NBA equivalent of Forrest Gump, someone who just always happened to be in the right place at the right time. Granted, his career has always been something of a paradox. He won seven Championships yet never made an All-Star team. He averaged just seven points for his career, and he could go 47 minutes without scoring a single bucket only to step up and sink the game-winner without batting an eye.
Recently, Horry unwittingly found himself at the center of the Kobe/LeBron debate following Michael Jordan‘s now-infamous “five is better than one” interview, an allusion to the â€” in many ways, problematic â€” argument that great players are categorically measured and ranked according to the number of championship trophies lining their display case. A chorus of hostile fans was quick to point out that, according this (flawed) logic, Horry would be ranked above just about everybody else except Bill Russell.
With all of that hardware, he’s practically assured a spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame, but until that time, try to set aside your righteous indignation and take a moment to appreciate some of the unforgettable performances he’s given us over the course of his fabled 16-year career. The godfather of late-game heroics turns 43 today, so we’re celebrating with a list of his ten best moments as one of the greatest clutch role players in NBA history.
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10. Horry’s Flagrant Foul on Steve Nash in the 2007 Playoffs
Truly one of Horry’s “greatest hits,” this was one of the rare moments when his alter-ego “Cheap Shot Rob” reared his ugly head. Horry never had a reputation for being a dirty player, so it seems more likely that he’d simply spent a little too much time around Bruce Bowen (aka “Drop Kick”) during his tenure in San Antonio. But make no mistake: Horry’s hip check on Steve Nash would alter the course of history. Horry got slapped with a two-game suspension, but more significantly, the ensuing scuffle would result in one-game suspensions for both Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for Game 5, which the Suns would go onto to lose to put them down 2-3 in the series. Even with Stoudemire and Diaw back in the lineup for Game 6, the Suns were eliminated, effectively closing the book on what many considered their best opportunity for that elusive championship.
9. 1993 Western Conference Semifinals Game 7
Admittedly, this is a relatively obscure moment in his career, partially because the Rockets would go onto to lose the game (and the series), but that doesn’t change the fact that it was one of his first big buckets in the postseason. With the shot clock winding down late in the fourth quarter, Horry threw up a prayer that puts the Rockets up by two points over the Sonics with 34 seconds remaining in the ultimately ill-fated game. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this particular game is the phantom figure known as “The Spirit of Game 7” who mysteriously found his way onto the court in the waning moments of their overtime loss.
8. 2007 Western Conference First Round
“Robert Horry has done it again! Big Shot Rob with a big-time triple.” En route to his seventh and final Championship, this was perhaps the last big play of his career and the last time we’d hear a breathless court-side announcer utter those words. With less than a minute to go in Game 4 and the Spurs up one, Horry demoralized a feisty Nuggets team with a huge corner-three to seal the victory. In classic Horry fashion, he finished the game with just six points, but if we’ve learned anything, it’s that he always made them when they counted most. The Nuggets would go onto to lose the series 4-1.
7. 2005 Finals Game 5
You’ll be seeing more from this game later on, but for now, let’s take a moment to reminisce about Horry’s monster (geriatric) dunk on Rip Hamilton with 1:30 left to play in regulation. It was so unexpected that even Horry himself seemed surprised by it. Arguably the most hotly-contested game of the entire series, it featured 12 lead changes and 18 ties and resulted in an overtime win for the Spurs and control of the series heading back to San Antonio.
6. 2001 NBA Finals Game 3
This was the year that the Lakers almost (almost!) went undefeated through the playoffs. Had it not been for the Sixers’ surprising Game 1 victory on the heels of Allen Iverson‘s 48-point explosion, this could have gone down as one of the greatest postseason runs since Moses Malone’s 1983 Sixers almost went “Fo’ Fo’ Fo.'” But the Sixers couldn’t keep their momentum, partly due to Horry’s series-shifting three-pointer in the final moments of Game 3 to help put the Lakers up 2-1 en route to their second consecutive Title.
5. 1995 Western Conference Finals Game 1
This series will forever be known as the time Hakeem Olajuwon went HAM on David Robinson, who was the regular-season MVP that year, a slight that transformed Hakeem into a blood-thirsty killing machine. But despite Hakeem’s eye-popping numbers in Game 1 (27 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 blocks), it took a clutch shot from Horry (2 of his 7 total points, by the way) with five seconds left to go up one game over the Spurs.
4. 2002 Western Conference First Round Game 3
Down 89-91 to the Portland Trail Blazers with 10 seconds remaining, Kobe Bryant, who’d had a solid game up to that point (22 points, 9 assists), drives and dishes to Horry for one of his patented, last-second corner threes to put the Lakers up by one point with just two seconds left. As a side note, Robert Horry might be one the player in NBA history that Kobe Bryant would justifiably defer to in a potential game-winning shot scenario.
3. 1995 Finals Game 3
Led by the young, dynamic duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, who were at the peak of their collective powers, the Magic were the heavy favorites going into the Finals. But Olajuwon, with a little help from his hot-shooting sidekick, had other plans. With just 14 seconds left in Game 3, Horry nailed a three-pointer that put the Rockets up 104-100 and secured a 3-0 series lead. The Rockets would go onto sweep the Magic for their second consecutive Title.
2. 2002 Western Conference Finals Game 4
This was the apex of the Lakers vs. Kings rivalry, and it would turn out to be one of the most controversial series of the decade. It’s still a sore spot for Sacramento fans as bitter disappointment eventually gave way to all sorts of conspiracy theories about game-fixing and corrupt officiating. All that aside, Horry’s buzzer-beater in Game 4 tied the series at 2-2 instead of heading back to Sacramento with the Lakers in a 3-1 hole. It’s also arguably the most iconic shot of his career, but it doesn’t quite fit into the number one spot.
1. 2005 NBA Finals Game 5
This one isn’t as sexy as the aforementioned game-winner against the Kings, but it’s by far his greatest all-around clutch performance. It’s hard to overstate just how big Horry came up in this particular game. He scored all of his 21 points in the final 17 minutes, and none of those were bigger than the three-pointer he made with 5.8 seconds remaining in overtime to secure a gritty win over the Pistons and head back to San Antonio with a 3-2 series lead. Bill Simmons has called the 2005 Finals the most unwatchable series of the past decade, but I beg differ. How can you not marvel at a nail-biting seven-game series between two scrappy, well-coach teams that play tough defense? They can’t all be Lakers vs. Celtics showdowns, and that’s a good thing.
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