Derek Fisher is no stranger to hitting clutch shots in the playoffs.
Most recently, he nailed two dagger three-pointers in Game 4 the 2009 NBA Finals against Orlando, and there’s always his 0.4 game-winner against San Antonio back in 2004.
But never had Fisher been L.A.’s primary shot maker down the stretch of a critical playoff game, as he was in scoring 11 fourth quarter points while helping the Lakers preserve a hard-fought 91-84 Game 3 victory.
“He won the game for them,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, his team losing the homecourt edge it had gained with Sunday’s Game 2 win in L.A. “Derek Fisher was the difference down the stretch.”
The most crucial of several big shots from Fisher was an and-1 layup that he floated over three converging Celtics off the glass with 48.3 seconds to go, producing an 87-80 lead from which the Celtics could not come back.
“Derek had made a number of plays in the fourth quarter, contested shots and taking things to the basket, and he just got out there ahead of the field,” Jackson said of the layup. “We have this direct line principle, no one steps up, you keep going, and he saw the opening and went and made a very bold play. It was imperative that it goes in for us to win.”
After the ball dropped in, Fisher was mobbed by his teammates, to whom all of them – including Bryant – look to for guidance on the floor.
“He’s our vocal leader, the heart and soul of this team,” said Bryant. “He’s been criticized quite a bit for his age. It’s a huge thrill for him and for all of us to see him come through in these moments. Truthfully, he’s done it over and over and over again. That’s what he does.”
Fisher’s fourth quarter for the ages started with a driving layup and 8:57 remaining to put the Lakers up three after Boston had cut a 12-point halftime lead down to just one. After Lamar Odom’s put-back layup, L.A.’s point guard then scored six straight points for the Lakers at 6:20, 5:33 and 4:33 left in the fourth, keeping the Purple and Gold narrowly in front as the Celtics’ defense focused intently upon Kobe Bryant.
“We saw some things we could accomplish by playing a little two-man game between Kobe and myself,” Fisher explained. “When Kobe sets a screen, his man is going to be very reluctant to help off of him, so it allows somebody else to get into the interior of their defense, and a couple time I made a pass or two, and a few other times I was able to knock down shots.”
Rivers agreed, stating that “the reason a lot of the other guys are open is because Kobe Bryant’s on the floor.” With the attention No. 24 mandated, he made only 1-of-6 fourth quarter attempts, though the make was a big one with 1:41 left in the contest to put L.A. up four. Bryant finished with a team-high 29 points (including 8-of-8 free throws) on 10-of-29 shooting.
When the final whistle blew, Bryant and the rest of his teammates went directly over to their co-captain for a round of hugs, back-taps, daps and high fives.
That, right there, is why Fisher said he plays the game.
“It’s tough to put it into words,” he explained. “I got a little emotional … I love what I do. I love helping my team win. To come through tonight, again, for this team, 14 years in after so many great moments, it’s always quite surreal.”
Most notably after the and-1 layup.
“To see Pau’s reaction and my teammates’ reactions, that’s why those moments feel so good to me,” Fisher concluded.
Of course, there were other key plays made down the stretch from Fisher’s teammates. They including a tough turnaround bank shot from Gasol with 2:17 to play, critical forced turnovers from both Ron Artest and Bryant in the final moments, two game-sealing free throws from Sasha Vujacic (who played only 19 seconds) and two buckets Odom, who scored 12 points with five boards off the bench, his impact shown by his game-high +16 in plus/minus.
Literally hours earlier in a long, tight contest, Boston came crashing out of the gates, scoring the first six points in a raucous TD Garden. The Celtics lead by as many as seven before the Lakers rolled off an impressive 32-8 run surrounding the first quarter break to lead by as many as 17, thanks in part to a bench that opened the game 7-for-7.
Ray Allen inexplicably failed to make even a single one of his 13 field goal attempts, one short of the NBA record for misses without a make (Dennis Johnson, 1978), while Paul Pierce was just 5-for-12 for 15 points, battling foul trouble throughout. Kevin Garnett carried Boston’s offense with 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including those first six points of the contest, after struggling in Games 1 and 2.
The Celtics cut the halftime lead in half after three, but couldn’t get any closer than one point (on multiple occasions) as the Lakers held off a furious charge.
They knew they could thank Derek Fisher for that.
Until Thursday’s Game 4, your numbers:
0 Field goals made by Ray Allen, despite 13 attempts (eight from three-point range) just a game after he set an NBA Finals record for made threes (8). His only two points came at the foul line.
11 Fourth quarter points for Derek Fisher, who was entirely instrumental to the victory. He finished with 16 points, making 5-of-7 shots in the fourth after hitting only 1-of-5 in the first three quarter.
12 Fastbreak points for the Celtics, more than L.A. had hoped for, but almost canceled out by eight from the Lakers.
43 Rebounds for the Lakers, eight more than Boston in the always-crucial battle.
87.5 L.A.’s free throw percentage, with a 21-of-24 conversion rate, including 6-of-7 in the fourth quarter.