Fisher seizes Finals moment yet again
BOSTON – All these championship years, all these June nights and Derek Fisher(notes) knows they’ll just remember these fleeting moments of chance. Here comes the ball, here comes redemption. Here comes history. Everyone comes with harsh judgments on what’s missing from his game, on what’s been lost, and still a man can scrub it clean with the world watching. History remembers these moments framed in awkward angles of a lefty’s shot, in the substance of a long, long run.
The tears in his eyes, the scratchy throat, it comes from an understanding that he was never, ever supposed to have this basketball life. Fisher did it again. This time, it was the Celtics. This time, it was Game 3 of the NBA Finals. This time, Kobe Bryant’s(notes) shots rimmed out, and the Garden grew louder and louder, and control of these Finals threatened to leave the Lakers.
All these years, all these June nights, and Fisher has made a legacy out of those leaning bank shots, those long 3-pointers, those bailout baskets that spared the Lakers a demise. Yes, Fisher did it again. When everything went wobbly, here was the surest, steady hand of an old champion on Tuesday night punctuating these 11 years as a Laker with one indomitable, daring end-to-end drive and basket.
Fisher kept waiting for someone to stop him inside the final minute. He dribbled past Rajon Rondo(notes) in the backcourt just to get past the time line, and something told him to keep going, keep dribbling, and as much as time and circumstance told him he should pull back and run clock, his instincts told him to make someone stop him.
So, Fisher kept going, past the 3-point line, past the elbow of the lane, and eventually there were three Celtics waiting for him near the rim. Kevin Garnett(notes) again. Big Baby Davis. Ray Allen(notes). Bodies collided, his old bones crashed to the floor, and yet Fisher flipped that shot into the air, off the backboard and through the net.
Fisher had stopped a Celtics rally with a jump shot and then a running one-hander and finally an odd-angle bank in the fourth quarter. Finally, he had that end-to-end three-point play, and a stunned silence swept over the Garden. It was over, and Fisher had delivered 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. He had played an immense part in Allen missing every one of his 13 shots. He had delivered a speech in the huddle at the end of the third that the Lakers were still talking about late Tuesday.
“He’s our guy that pulls everyone together,” Bryant said.
He’s the Laker who pulls everything out. He came to Los Angeles as a rookie with Bryant, a four-year college player out of Arkansas-Little Rock. They bonded over full-court one-on-one games throughout that lonely first season, sometimes resorting to fist fights to settle matters. Bryant has never been closer to a teammate and maybe never understood how much Fisher balanced him until Fisher left for those three seasons after winning three straight titles. Bryant never once missed Shaquille O’Neal(notes), but he never got over the departure of Fisher to Golden State and Utah.
“I had point guards who were nowhere near his caliber in leadership and shot-making abilities and toughness,” Bryant said. “It changes things drastically for me.”
They play good cop, bad cop with the Lakers. Bryant is the tough taskmaster, the ominous authoritarian. Fisher is the self-help guru, the one plowing through books on successful CEOs and managerial styles. “He’s always giving positive reinforcement,” Bryant said. “I’m the opposite. We play off each other extremely well.”
For these Lakers, Fisher has been indispensible as Bryant’s consigliore. As young kids, they grew up together. As thirtysomethings, he’s the one Laker with the credibility of time, of championship pedigree and commitment, who can be an unapologetic truth-teller to Bryant.
“He’s really the only one I listen to,” Bryant said. “We’ve been through it, so he can come up to me and say, ‘Kobe, you’re effing up.’ ”
This is the reason they’ll walk arm-and-arm into history together, four-time NBA champions now pushing for a fist full of rings. Together, they had walked into Boston staggered over a Game 2 loss and it strangely felt like ’08 again. They flew into Boston, checked into the same hotel and had 24 long hours to stare at the same walls, hear the same talk around town. They never did win a game at the Garden two years ago, and hadn’t played here in the postseason since the humiliation of that 39-point Game 6 loss.
It would start to be a dark night with those Celtics closing tighter and tighter in the fourth quarter, a 17-point lead dissolved to one point before Derek Fisher, oldest Laker, oldest values, understood that one more of these moments had come, one more of these chances, and he didn’t dare let go. “To come through again for this team, 14 years in, after so many great moments, it’s always surreal … always humbling,” Fisher said.
Yes, he had that .4 second shot in ’04 to beat the Spurs, had those huge shots to beat Orlando in Game 4 a year ago, and on and on down the years. He’s 35 years old, and the precious nature of these nights, these moments, suggested to him that maybe one would never present itself again for Fisher. Only it did, and there was Derek Fisher, chugging down the floor, pushing past the years, past the Celtics, and scoring on a breathless end-to-end run to silence the Garden and transform the Celtics into Game 3 losers.
“Five or ten years from now, when I’m long gone, I would have hated to feel like I didn’t just do everything I could to help my team, and live with the consequences,” Fisher said. He thinks about those things a lot, every day, and this is why those eyes were filled with tears. Here came the ball again, here came redemption.
He made his shots, and that’s how a champion frames his forever, how everything else gets scrubbed away and only those telltale minutes, those shots, are remembered. Yes, this made Derek Fisher weep on Tuesday night. He was so grateful, so sure history never forgets a man delivering in these moments.