Chauncey Billups: Former Pistons coach Larry Brown ‘choked’ in 2005 NBA Finals

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Robert Horry hit more than his fair share of huge shots. Perhaps, none was bigger than his game-winning 3-pointer in Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals. Few single shots in have swung championship odds from one team’s favor to another’s. That one did.

With the series tied 2-2, Horry’s Spurs trailed the Pistons by two with 9.4 seconds left. Horry inbounded to Manu Ginobili, and Rasheed Wallace – assigned to cover Horry – trapped Ginobili. Ginobili kicked to Horry, who knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer to give San Antonio a 3-2 series lead. The Spurs won in seven.

Former Detroit guard Chauncey Billups on The Lowe Post podcast:

Here’s what’s crazy about that play. So, we’re in the huddle. Of course, me and everybody else is saying, “No 3s. No matter what, no 3s. No 3s. Press up. A two don’t kill us. No 3s.” We walk back on the floor. We’re getting set up. I see Lindsey Hunter come to the desk. I’m like, “Perfect. We good. He going to get Sheed.”

Billups listed his envisioned defensive matchups:

  • Chauncey Billups – Tony Parker
  • Lindsey Hunter – Manu Ginobili
  • Richard Hamilton – Bruce Bowen
  • Tayshaun Prince – Robert Horry
  • Ben Wallace – Tim Duncan

Billups continued:

We good. Buzzer goes off, and he says, “Chaunce, I got you.” I’m like, “What the hell.” I just didn’t understand it. So, obviously, there’s no time to – it’s time to win the game. You worry about it later. And for so many reasons, it’s just crazy. I didn’t have any issues defensively.

Not only that, what happens if the rebound comes off, and your free-throw shooter is not in the game? I mean, there’s so many different – I really think, for real, I think Larry just kind of choked in that moment.

I think he just, he kind of chocked. And I don’t know.

That was crazy. How do you think I felt? First of all, I’m the MVP of the series if we win again.

This is such an underdiscussed angle of that famous play. Horry gets and deserves credit for making the shot, and Rasheed takes plenty of criticism for his mental lapse of doubling off Horry. But why wasn’t Billups on the court?

Billups’ anticipated lineup would have been able to switch nearly everything, if not everything. (I’d be a little iffy on a Ginobili-Duncan screen defended by Hunter and Ben Wallace.) Rasheed could defend well on the perimeter, too, but he wasn’t quite as comfortable there.

Billups was a strong defender. He’s also spot-on about having him on the court to get intentionally fouled if San Antonio missed. Though Hamilton was a good free-throw shooter, Billups was the most dependable Piston from the line.

Larry Brown was a great coach who helped the Pistons reach that level, including guiding them to the 2004 title. But there’s a strong case he erred in this huge situation.

That said, we’ll never know what would have happened if he left Billups, not Rasheed, in the game. Billups’ criticism has the benefit of hindsight. Maybe the Spurs would have made a shot over a smaller defender. Maybe Detroit would have forced a miss, but – with Rasheed on the bench – surrendered an offensive rebound. Or maybe the Spurs wouldn’t have scored at all and fallen behind 3-2. But they also had Games 6 and 7 at home.

That the Pistons won Game 6 in San Antonio bolsters Billups’ case. Maybe that game would have gone differently if it were a must-win for the Spurs, though. There’s no way to tell.

But it seems more likely than not Billups is right: If Brown left him in the game, Detroit would have won the title and Billups would have gotten his second Finals MVP.

Instead, the Spurs got rings, and Duncan won Finals MVP, and we’re left with this “what if?”