Fisher's Steady Hands Get Closer to Another Ring
ORLANDO, Fla. — While pandemonium flanks him and other players whistle by, Derek Fisher is the steady tortoise surrounded by hares. His shot begins methodically, a slow squaring of the body that gives way to a rainbow-arcing shot. In his shot’s generous lifespan, from release to splash, a team has enough time to contemplate its future.
He seemed to arrive at the crossroads where age tips the benefits of experience. Utah’s Deron Williams dominated him in the first round. In the Western Conference semifinals, Houston’s Aaron Brooks reduced Fisher’s defense to all the hassle a turnstile might provide. In the conference finals, Denver’s Chauncey Billups ran circles around him. Many felt that Fisher’s performances were a large factor in the Lakers’ meandering path to the finals.
“I’ve heard different versions of it,” Fisher said. “Now, it’s age. Before it was other things in terms of not being able to shoot or not tall enough or whatever the case was. And so, I’ve always used those things as motivation to work even harder and try to be better than I was before.”
For an evening, Kobe Bryant relinquished his closer’s role to Fisher. Twice. And now the same hands that release those methodical shots are on the verge of adding another championship ring.
With 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation, Trevor Ariza passed to Fisher after Bryant was trapped in the backcourt. Fisher briefly fumbled the ball. He gained control, and raced upcourt. With one glance, he looked at the clock. With another, he noticed his defender, Jameer Nelson, backpedaling. In a split second, the five previous 3-pointers he missed did not matter and he lofted the shot over a surprised Nelson to tie the score.
In overtime, after Bryant’s elbow struck Nelson, who was arriving on a double team, Fisher delivered another high-arcing, slow-falling dagger from beyond the 3-point line, putting the Lakers ahead for good with 31.3 seconds left, breaking a 91-91 tie.
The two baskets came after Fisher’s shot had been errant. They came after calls for him to be replaced in the lineup. And they came after he had already earned a reputation as a player whose hands remain dry in the clutch, a point driven home by his game-winning shot with 0.4 seconds left against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2004 conference semifinals.
“It ranks right up there at the top,” Fisher said. “You know, even greater than 0.4 because I feel like we’re as close as possible to what our end goal is.”
After the shot in 2004, T-shirts commemorated the moment. It appeared Fisher’s career had peaked as high as his shot. He departed the organization after the season, only to resurface with the Lakers and in playoff lore.
Fisher dismissed comparisons of his late-game dramatics to those of Robert Horry, a former teammate who retired with seven championships.
“I’m quite a few rings shy of where he stands,” said Fisher, who been on three championship teams.
Although time is dwindling, Fisher is inching closer. He, Bryant and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson are the lone holdovers from the Lakers’ three titles earlier this decade.
Many times, Fisher does the little things that do not show in the final score. He was effective doubling down on Dwight Howard earlier in the series, disrupting him like a gnat. In the finals, he has played the long minutes of a player a decade younger.
“He’s not blessed with great speed,” Jackson said. “He’s a good athlete, but he’s not particularly fast. But he has a certain sense about him, knows what’s going on on the floor, can organize a team, not afraid to go away from Kobe when sometimes Kobe is asking for the ball and he knows better, and I need a guard like him to do that.”
On the postgame podium, Bryant, finally released from his series-long snarl, said that he joked with Fisher about his earlier misses.
“But that’s Derek, though,” Bryant said. “He just has supreme confidence. And I think those shots at the end of the game are actually easier for him than the other ones.”
With his mild celebration completed, Fisher returned to his nature of braking while others speed. In the locker room he cautioned the Lakers not to get ahead of themselves. He and Jackson reminded the team of the championship in 2000, when the Indiana Pacers trounced Los Angeles in Game 5 after the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead.
“He just said that Kobe got hurt in the game, came back in Game 4, won, and they thought that everything was going to be good, the other team was just going to lay down,” Ariza said. “And the next game, they got beat by 30. He just told us to stay focused because it’s not over.”Many times, the game is not over until Fisher gets his last shot in.