It's not a one-way street, toughness and resolve. The 76ers indeed have resourcefulness, but not all of it. They don't have a monopoly on guts.
The Lakers didn't get to be defending champions because they breeze through every game, every round, all the time. Game 3 of the NBA Finals demonstrated that the Lakers are as capable of scratching out a close game on the road as Philly. And the aftermath suggested very loudly the Lakers are fed up with the 76ers patting themselves on the back.
Robert Horry hit the game's biggest shot, with 47 seconds to play, and sank the biggest free throws, with 21 seconds to play, and then the Lakers really went on the offensive. Kobe Bryant said he's tired of hearing about how injured and tough the 76ers are. Shaquille O'Neal called Dikembe Mutombo a flopper. And suddenly, with the Lakers up, 2-1, in the NBA Finals, the series has some edge to it.
Told that the 76ers have expressed pride over the way players have stayed in the lineup despite broken ankles (Eric Snow and Aaron McKie) and a broken finger (Mutombo), Bryant said: "As a unit, we really don't care. I mean, it's good for everybody else to hear that. I think the city of Philadelphia likes to hear that. I think it's very inspirational. For us, we don't [care]."
The Lakers earned the right to thump their own chests a bit Sunday night because they showed at least as much heart as the Sixers, at least in the context of a specific game.
You know those silly analyses everybody does before a series, and they mention some player who might be an "X-factor." That's what Horry is. For 40 minutes you pay him no attention whatsoever, and when the game on the line he's suddenly lethal.
You think of the Houston Rockets' championship teams of 1994 and '95, you'd better first think about Hakeem Olajuwon. Then, a young Sam Cassell comes to mind, and perhaps Kenny Smith after that. Clyde Drexler played on the second of those two championship teams. But you know who was a big deal both times around, hitting threes and stepping into passing lanes and slamming down lob passes? Robert Horry. Will Smith on stilts. When all the best players are on the floor, the starters, Horry defers. He lays back. You may not notice he's even on the floor.
But when one or two of the big boys are out, Horry becomes one of the big boys. He did it in Houston as a youngster, he's doing it now for the Lakers as an old-school dude.