In 2004, Derek Fisher nailed his “0.4″ offering against San Antonio in the Western Conference Semi’s. Last season, L.A.’s co-captain won Game 4 of the NBA Finals for L.A. with two late three-point daggers against Orlando.
Game 3 of the 2010 Western Semi’s against Utah may not have been as critical as either circumstance with L.A. holding a 2-0 series heading in, but there was Fisher yet again, burying a deep three with 28.6 seconds to go that put the Lakers up 109-108 in a game the Purple and Gold would hold on to win 111-110.
“That’s what he does,” said Deron Williams, who just missed a potential game-winning jumper himself. “He’s done it his whole career. It’s no surprise.”
Kobe Bryant, who was terrific throughout in leading all scorers with 35 points on 13-of-24 shooting, wasn’t surprised either.
“Fish was being Fish,” he said, “What more can you say. This is something he’s done his entire career. Just making big plays.”
But it wasn’t just Fisher hitting clutch three-pointers for L.A..
Ron Artest, who’d hit only 7-of-42 threes (16.7 percent) in his first eight playoff games, nailed his fourth of the game early in the final quarter; Lamar Odom, who’d missed all but one of his previous five shots, buried a triple with 2:25 left to put L.A. up a point; then Kobe entered Black Mamba mode to tie the game at 106 with 54 seconds to play.
It was almost for naught, however, as the final seconds saw Utah’s chance to win come off the rim by an inch.
First came two Kobe free throws that put L.A. up 111-108 with 7.8 seconds left; then two Williams freebies with 6.1 to play as L.A. chose to foul and not concede a three; next a Lakers’ turnover as Fisher thought he was fouled on an inbounds pass that Utah ended up with, 4.4 to play; finally came Williams’ missed J from the top of the key, and a couldn’t-have-missed-by-much-less Wesley Matthews tip-in at the buzzer.
“That was quite a game,” said Phil Jackson. “Unexpected guys stepped up tonight … (Utah) took away our post game by double-teaming and rotating. We didn’t start off very well, but we gained traction in the second quarter and played a much better game.”
Indeed, the Lakers got almost nothing in the paint a game after Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined for 50 points, 44 rebounds and nine blocks (Game 2), with Bynum being held scoreless on one attempt in 20 minutes, Odom scoring just five points before his big three and Gasol going for 14, 10 of which came in the third quarter. However, those aggressive Jazz double teams did lead to L.A.’s numerous wide open attempts from the three-point line, and after a 4-for-13 first half from distance, the Lakers punished Utah with nine makes in 16 second half attempts.
“We had good looks and good opportunities and our shots fell at the right time,” said Bryant. “The threes we got tonight were threes with our feet set.”
And while Bryant and Fisher, both of whom made three triples, have hit from distance throughout the postseason, Artest’s four bombs came as a surprise to many … but not his coach.
“You heard me before the game, I said we know he can make them,” said Jackson. “Three-point shooters run hot and cold and tonight he was pretty hot. All in all, I thought he made really good decisions tonight.”
The win was significant for L.A. as during the 2009 championship run, the Lakers failed to win three straight games to start a series even once, dropping Game 3 to Utah, Game 1 to Houston, Game 2 to Denver and Game 3 to Orlando in respective playoff rounds.
Add losses in Games 3 and 4 to Oklahoma City in the First Round of this season’s playoffs, and the Lakers’ last 3-0 start had come in the First Round of the 2008 playoffs during a 4-0 sweep of Denver. But now, the 3-0 lead provides an opportunity for L.A. to close things out on Monday, if they have their way. Of course, they don’t expect anything less than an all-out effort from Jerry Sloan’s Jazz, whom he said “played as hard as (they) could play) on Saturday.”
“They’re going to come back out in Game 4 and play a similar game,” concluded Jackson. “We hope that we can compete at this level again Monday night.”
Until then, your numbers.
6 Second half turnovers for the Jazz, double what they’d had in each of their first two games. A key here was L.A.’s being able to play defense in front of their bench in the second half, a prerogative afforded the visiting team (being able to choose). None was bigger than Carlos Boozer’s unforced error with 2:35 to go in the fourth and Utah up two, as his fumble out of bounds resulted in Lamar Odom’s three at the other end.
13 Three-pointers made by the Lakers, establishing a new playoff high. They’d canned 12 triples in Game 6 against Oklahoma City in Round 1, but made only six combined in Games 1 and 2 against Utah.
21 Lead changes in the second half after just one in the first half, which came after the first possession.
32 Paint points for the Lakers, who instead got 39 points from three-pointers. Andrew Bynum missed the only shot he took, while Odom was only 2-for-6. Pau Gasol shot just 12 times, making six for 14 points.
35 Points for Kobe Bryant on 13-of-24 shooting to lead the Lakers, his fourth straight playoff game with at least 30 points. After the game, Bryant confirmed that his legs felt as good as they looked. He added a team-high seven assists.