DENVER – Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions don't have the five championship rings Derek Fisher won with the Los Angeles Lakers. Nor do they possess Fisher's leadership skills, experience, portfolio of clutch shots or, most importantly, his camaraderie with Kobe Bryant.
And that's OK with Bryant. If Blake and Sessions continue to perform as they did in the Lakers' 92-88 Game 4 victory over the Denver Nuggets – each hit a clutch 3-pointer in the closing seconds – then they'll carve out their own little place in franchise lore.
“They have tough shoes to fill because Fish has so much experience,” Bryant said after the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. “But you have to start somewhere. Fish and I started somewhere. We were playing at a time with [Ron] Harper who had three championships and we had to learn from him.
“But we had to start somewhere. This is the beginning for them.”
So far, the early returns have been promising.
With Fisher starting to show his age this season, the Lakers figured they needed more athleticism at point guard. They acquired Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers at the trade deadline. On the same day, they sent Fisher and a protected first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for forward Jordan Hill.
Fisher first joined the Lakers in 1996 when both he and Bryant were rookies, and the two developed a strong relationship. Sessions didn't know Bryant before coming to Los Angeles. The first time they met, Bryant told Sessions, "Let's win a ring.”
But while Bryant immediately accepted him, Sessions also had to win Bryant's confidence. Sessions had never appeared in a playoff game before joining the Lakers. He's missed 10 of his 13 3-point attempts in the series, but made the one that mattered: With 48 seconds left Sunday and the game tied, he hit a 24-foot shot in front of the Nuggets' bench.
Bryant "believes in me enough down the stretch that if they got to throw me the ball, they’ll throw me the ball,” said Sessions, who is averaging 13.8 points in the series.
Blake was expected to be a 3-point specialist for the Lakers when he joined them last season. Instead, his first season was a disappointment. He averaged a career-low four points and made just 36 percent of his shots.
“Comfort just comes with time,” Blake said.
Blake's moment arrived with 18.9 seconds left and the Lakers clinging to the three-point lead. Bryant passed to him in the corner, and Blake buried his own 3-pointer to seal the victory.
“Those moments don’t scare him,” Bryant said.
Lakers coach Mike Brown had challenged his guards during a previous timeout to take – and make – open shots when they had the opportunity. Both of them delivered. After Blake's shot slid through the net, Bryant embraced him.
“It always feels good to get a hug from Kobe,” Blake said. “It means you did something right.”
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