To: Los Angeles Lakers Teammates
From: Derek Fisher
Subject: An NBA Finals Victory
Derek Fisher’s no stranger to big shots. In fact, big shots, particularly in the playoffs, are among his closest friends.
But nailing a three in the face of Orlando’s Jameer Nelson to force overtime in Game 4 of the NBA Finals with 4.6 seconds remaining took it to another level.
Of course, that shot alone would have been enough to produce flowing rivers of praise for a player that had endured a great deal of criticism for his play particularly early in the postseason, but to not only save the game but then add its winning shot by sinking another triple with 31.4 seconds left in overtime was almost too good to be true.
“It’s character,” said Phil Jackson. “It’s not just about talent, it’s about character, and he’s a person of high character, brings that to play, not only in just his gamesmanship but also his intestinal fortitude.”
“Even greater than 0.04 because I feel like we’re as close as possible from our end goal,” said Fisher, referring to his 2004 game winner against San Antonio. “It’s at the top.”
Kobe Bryant, who led the way with 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, was happy to explain why he’s developed maximum trust in his point guard.
“He’s been there before,” said Bryant. “He’s been there and done that. In the locker room I was teasing him a little bit because he was 0-for-5 on threes before he made those last two. But that’s Derek, though. I think those shots at the end of the game are actually easier for him than the other ones.”
Fisher’s first dagger, which followed a Pau Gasol dunk with 31.9 seconds remaining, took L.A. from what seemed to be almost inevitable defeat – Orlando was up by five with the ball and less than a minute remaining – to a victory that brought them within a single victory of the NBA title.
After the top-of-the-key swish in OT, Gasol followed a Turkoglu missed three by streaking up the floor to collect a long rebound, taking a few steps and dunking to put L.A. up 96-91 with 21.6 seconds remaining to seal the deal, but L.A. knew it wasn’t time to punch the clock.
“We know we still have work to do,” said Fisher. “We’ve got to be ready to go come Sunday.”
That the Lakers had a chance to come back in the first place was courtesy of a fantastic third quarter that featured a swarming defense and 13 points from Trevor Ariza, turning a 12-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead heading into the fourth. Ariza’s, who also hit a huge three with 2:36 left in the fourth to tie the game, scored just one fewer point than Orlando in the third, and his teammates added 17 to cap a 30-14 quarter. The third made up for an odd first half that demanded all 12 players on the active roster to check into the game as Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom all picked up two early fouls.
Another huge factor in the outcome of the game was Orlando’s struggle at the free throw line; the Magic made just 22-of-37, including 13 misses from Hedo Turkoglu (five) and Dwight Howard (eight). No misses were bigger than two Howard clanks with 11.1 seconds left in regulation.
That provided the Lakers with that final chance, and anticipating a foul, Bryant passed immediately to Ariza, who found Fisher up the floor for his fateful jumper that left the Magic with little to say.
“The mood was very somber,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy of his locker room. “Very, very somber.”
As for the Lakers, it was fitting that Derek Fisher didn’t celebrate for too long, instead reminding his teammates of L.A.’s 2000 championship team that was trounced in Game 5 after taking a 3-1 lead in Game 4.
After all, L.A. needs another victory, and that’s the only number necessary tonight:
Wins needed for the Lakers to claim an NBA Championship.
…On second thought, one more number:
Derek Fisher’s jersey number was never so fitting.