Derek Fisher's Fourth-Quarter Heroics Save Lakers Yet Again
But this veteran's day was a bit different for Fisher. After the point guard had made yet another Errol Flynn-like postseason rescue and helped his Lakers to a 91-84 win over Boston on Tuesday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, tears welled up in his eyes. Fisher then had trouble keeping his composure in a postgame television interview.
"He was very emotional,'' said Lakers forward Luke Walton. "It was emotional to see him emotional.''
Fisher last year stepped up with some fine play after a disastrous early run in the playoffs to help the Lakers beat Orlando for the NBA title. And in these Finals, at 35, he was hearing the same rumblings about how time had passed him by. In the first two games, he averaged 7.5 points on 5-of-18 shooting, including watching opposing point guard Rajon Rondo put up a triple-double in the Celtics' 103-94 win in Game 2.
But then came Tuesday at TD Garden. Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant was struggling and the Celtics were launching a dramatic comeback from a 17-point deficit that was beginning to conjure up memories of their recovery from 24 points down in Game 4 of the 2008 Finals, which they won over the Lakers.
Fisher, though, was just getting started. He scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a 2-1 Finals lead.
"I got a bit emotional in my postgame interview right after the game just because I love what I do, and I love helping my team win,'' Fisher said. "Even when things maybe aren't going the way I'd like them to go for reasons I can control and some I can't, I still pretty much kept my mouth shut and just keep doing my job, and remain faithful that things will come around. And so to come through (Tuesday) again for this team, 14 years (into his career) after so many great moments, it's always quite surreal and quite humbling to experience it again.''
Fisher kept his mouth shut after Rondo and Celtics guard Ray Allen, who scored 32 points on 8-of-11 three-point shooting while Fisher was trying much of the night to guard him, both came up big in Game 2. Then again, hearing criticism wasn't anything new.
Fisher had talked in an interview with FanHouse last month about how he's long been doubted, even before he hit his 30s. It has become more vocal with Fisher coming off two hardly scintillating regular seasons in his mid-30s. But Fisher has continued his knack of coming up big when it matters in the postseason.
"I'm always excited for him when he does it,'' Bryant said of Fisher, whose defense Tuesday helped hold Allen to an unthinkable 0-of-13 shooting night and who was the better point guard on the floor as Rondo scored 11 points. "He's been criticized quite a bit for his age. (It's) a huge thrill for him and for all us to see him come through in these moments.''
If Fisher hadn't, it would have been Bryant hearing the criticism. Bryant scored a game-high 29 points but shot just 10 of 29.
In the fourth quarter, Bryant was just 1 of 6. And the Celtics, who had trailed by as much as 37-20 in the first half and 54-40 in the third quarter, kept charging back. They got within one point twice in the fourth and were within 84-80 when Fisher made the play of the game.
Like the swashbuckling Flynn, Fisher took on all comers when he drove the length of the floor for a layup, was fouled and converted a free throw for an 87-80 lead with 48.3 seconds remaining. Lakers coach Phil Jackson called it a "very bold play'' and "one on four'' as Fisher took the ball to the basket and scored with Allen, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis draped all over him. For the record, the foul went to Davis.
"I was really just trying to advance the ball and get it up past half court before the eight-second count,'' Fisher said. "I saw K.G. coming up, and the angle that he took, I knew I could get around him without stepping on the left sideline. ... I just took the direct line.''
Before anybody starts blowing it out of proportion that Fisher knew he could get around Garnett, who dealt with a media circus after Lakers forward Pau Gasol last Friday innocently said he's lost some explosiveness, let it be known Fisher is older than Garnett, 34. In fact, Fisher is the oldest starter in these Finals.
If the Celtics had been able to win, everybody would have talked about how Garnett suddenly was able to regain a step, scoring 25 points. But Fisher put a damper on that for Gang Green.
Fisher knew his buddy, Bryant, was struggling. So he got more aggressive in the fourth quarter, shooting 5 of 7 in the final frame. While he normally hits big three-pointers in his rescue roles, he actually was 0 for 1 beyond the arc in the fourth (0 for 3 for the game), preferring to drive and shoot medium-range jumpers.
"He's a winner,'' Walton said. "He's a champion. He knows what it takes. He's (35). Throughout the hard grind of the season, young 21-year-old guards might be able to get the better of him. But he sticks with it. He never loses faith, never loses confidence. When the game's on the line, besides Kobe Bryant, there's not many other people you'd rather see the ball leaving their hand than Derek Fisher.''
Is it not surprising then that all of Bryant's four titles have come with Fisher as his point guard? When Fisher left the team between 2004-07, the Lakers once didn't make the playoffs and twice didn't get out of the first round.
"I went through years where I didn't have him,'' Bryant said. "I had point guards who were nowhere near his caliber in leadership and shot-making ability and toughness. ... I don't have as much responsibility as I had when he wasn't here. ... He's our vocal leader. He's the heart and soul of this team.''
Yes, Chucky Atkins and Smush Parker, the Lakers' starting point guards when Fisher was away for three seasons, that was just Bryant taking a shot at you.
Before the fourth quarter, it was Fisher exhorting his teammates to fend off Boston's rally. And it was Fisher who then showed Boston coach Doc Rivers that old, cagey point guards still can step up when needed. Not that Rivers, an NBA point guard until he was 34, needed much reminding.
"Won the game for them,'' Rivers said. "Derek Fisher was the difference in the game.''
Fisher is old enough that he almost played against Rivers, now 48. Rivers' last active season was 1995-96, and Fisher entered the NBA as a late first-round draft pick several months later.
That was a long time ago. And some of that realization of 14 years as a player surfaced when Fisher got emotional after the game.
"I think as you grow in this game and you put in the work that's required to still be around 14 years later, you know, you start to recognize that being in this moment on this stage, it's not a given,'' said Fisher, who won NBA titles with the Lakers in 2000, 2001, 2002 and last season. "It's not something that happens every season.''
Well, it does happen most of the time when Fisher and Bryant are paired. In their 11 seasons together, they've now been to seven Finals.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson