Fisher saves his best for last — again
The Los Angelers Lakers had a guard close the game last night, but it wasn’t the guy you expected.
It wasn’t Kobe Bryant. It was Derek Fisher, the “other’’ guard, the sturdy 35-year-old lefty who invariably plays his best basketball in the months of May and June.
He has made much of his reputation on the one or two big end-of-the-game shots, but last night he expanded his domain to include the entire last nine minutes. More than anyone else, he made sure the Lakers would get this sweet bounce-back road victory, a 91-84 triumph that gives them a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
With the Lakers having lost almost all of a onetime 17-point lead, Fisher scored four times in the next five minutes and five times in all, capping his big fourth period with a driving transition layup that hit high on the glass and fell through the hoop for an old-fashioned 3-point play that gave his team an 87-80 lead with 48.3 seconds to go.
After Game 2 the entire basketball world was rhapsodizing about Rajon Rondo, the certified Next Great Thing among NBA point guards. No one was paying much attention to the LA point guard, who is a four-door sedan to Rondo’s
But last night Rondo was toned down. He had a few blazing moments, but he was far from the other-worldly guard who had taken over Game 2 at Staples Center. In the end he was upstaged by the steady, unspectacular, almost plodding veteran, who simply took advantage of his opportunities at the most important stage of the game.
It was LA, 68-67, following a Rondo excursion to the hoop early in the fourth. LA had led by 17 (37-20) in the second quarter, 14 (54-40) as late as the opening minute of the third quarter and by 9 (62-53) with 3:39 remaining in the third. But the Celtics kept chipping away and chipping away, and seemed, quite frankly, inevitable when they finally got it down to 1 and then regained possession. The crowd was screaming “Beat LA!’’ The momentum was clear.
But that would prove to be the only time they would be 1 down with the ball, for on the next possession referee Bill Kennedy called a mysterious off-the-ball offensive foul on, of all people, Ray Allen, who was already deep into what must go down as the worst game of his playoff career. Zero-for-13 says it all, wouldn’t you say?
Fisher made him pay with a tough, professional drive to the basket to make it 70-67. When a Glen Davis free throw cut it to 72-70, Fisher popped one in from the lane. He came out of a timeout to hit another jumper (76-70). The Celtics turned it over at 76-73 and Fisher hit another stop-and-popper. This was all Kobe-like stuff.
This kind of clutch play from Fisher has been going on for a long time. He has always had a great long-range jumper, he always knows his assignments, and he has no fear of taking the big shot. He can go unnoticed for long periods, and you often hear that the Lakers would love to replace him with a newer, younger, sexier model, but the fact is that they still need him as much as he needs them.
And he does. He found out the hard way when he utilized free agency to become a Warrior back in 2004 that life was a lot better with the likes of Kobe and, well, Kobe. He was able to get back to LA after a year in Utah for a perfectly horrible reason, that being the eye cancer that struck his daughter. He asked for his release so he could relocate in LA for the beat possible medical treatment, and his wish was granted.
Derek Fisher commands respect, on and off the court. Coaches love him. Teammates love him. Opponents must love him, too, because they elected him president of the Players Association. You might as well go so far as to say that if you’ve got to be beaten by somebody, it might as well be Derek Fisher.
“He won the game for them,’’ said Doc Rivers. “He was the difference in the game.’’
The play that really bothered the Boston mentor was that last 3-point play. Allen had just missed his 13th, and final, attempt, but it was still a 4-point game with 50-odd seconds to play, and in the NBA that’s a whole lotta time.
“All you need is a stop,’’ Doc said. “We let Derek Fisher dribble the ball all the way up court, unattended, and get a 3-point play. If we get a stop there, we still had two timeouts left, three timeouts at the time, we had plenty of time.’’
With all due respect to the good Doctor, “unattended’’ might not be the proper word to describe the situation. Fisher was blasted by none other than Glen Davis. It’s doubtful he saw the ball go in. It was a major big-time play by a major big-time clutch player
Derek Fisher has never had a sniff at an All-star Game and he’s not going to the Hall of Fame. But he’s got four rings and there’s a good chance he’ll have one for the thumb before this season is over. He’s a nice guy to have around.
“I love what I do,’’ he said, “and I love helping my team win. And so to come through again for the team, 14 years in, after so many great moments, it’s always quite surreal and quite humbling to do it again, and do it again.’’
A lot of guys with bigger résumés will never know the satisfaction of being Derek Fisher.