(Nash slams into the scorer's table. Photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)
Of all the late-game heroics in Robert Horry's career, only once did it not involve shooting the basketball.
In Game 4 of the Western Semis, the Suns staged a furious comeback to tie the Spurs at two games apiece and regained control of the series. Their victory came at a cost though. With 18.2 seconds remaining in the game, Horry slammed Nash into the scorer's table. Raja Bell jumped into Horry's face and the teams scuffled for a few seconds.
The call was a flagrant foul and Horry was ejected. The Suns hit their free throws and closed out the game. However, replays showed both Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire, who were on the bench at the time, stepping (albeit briefly) onto the court. Both Diaw and Stoudemire were suspended the following day, while Horry was given a two-game reprieve.
The ruling sparked a myriad of outrage from everyone outside the state of Texas. Most columnists agreed that removing Stoudemire and Diaw rewarded Horry's actions instead of punishing them. There was an outpouring of pleas to change the instant-suspension rule for leaving the bench during an altercation, while the league had initiated to stop whole teams from joining brawls. Those cries went unheard, and the Suns were forced to play on.
In Game 5, the Suns' eight-man rotation was trimmed to six thanks to the suspensions. Bell played 47 minutes, while Nash and Shawn Marion played 46. Phoenix held a 16-point lead early in the game and led by 8 with under six minutes to go. Whether it was a lack of stamina from their starters playing the whole game or the Spurs stopped feeling bad about playing them at half-strength, San Antonio turned on the afterburners. A Bruce Bowen three with under a minute to go broke an 85-85 tie and gave the Spurs a 3-2 series lead.
Phoenix got Amare back for Game 6, but winning a closeout game in San Antonio after playing their other starters huge minutes was too much to ask. The Spurs dominated the third quarter and won the game by eight. They then beat the Utah Jazz in the Conference Finals and swept the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Horry, who in his 15th year had fallen out of the rotation, rarely got on the court. Yet in about two seconds, his foul sent the Suns packing.
(The players wrestled a little after Horry's foul. Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In the offseason, it was revealed that 14-year referee Tim Donaghy had bet on games he officiated. Donaghy was one of the men calling Game 3 of the Spurs-Suns series; the Spurs won that game, and many writers had been critical of the calls that seemed to favor San Antonio.
With that discovery, each one of the Spurs' victories over Phoenix were now in question. In Game 1, Nash did not re-enter the game in the closing minutes because the trainers couldn't stop his nose bleeding (he had bumped heads with Tony Parker). Game 3 appeared to have been manipulated by Donaghy, the Suns were without Stoudemire in Game 5, and were too exhausted to compete in Game 6.
The Spurs and Suns met again in the postseason in 2008. Vengeance, unfortunately, was not served. Too bad, because the 2007 Spurs-Suns series was as unfulfilling a playoff series as there's ever been in the NBA.