They say you should never underestimate the heart of a champion. Well, Derek Fisher is a four-time champion, and he has a heart the size of Boston Garden.
With the ball in his hands and his team’s lead dwindling on the road in the fourth quarter, Fisher took a hard foul and three Boston Celtics defenders head-on as he converted a three point opportunity. The play not only extended the Los Angeles Lakers’ lead, but was instrumental in getting a 91-84 victory over the Boston Celtics.
They now have a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals, and have reclaimed homecourt advantage.
Throughout the entire playoffs, regardless of the opponent, Fisher was always recognized as his team's weak link. He was old. He was tired. He had no place being on the court.
He is also the reason the Lakers overcome the Orlando Magic last year in the 2009 NBA Finals, and he is the only other Laker -- besides Kobe Bryant -- with the guts and brains to take the shots that need to be taken with the game on the line.
After the game, Bryant had this to say about his long-time teammate:
“(That was) just Derek being Derek. He makes big plays all the time. He never ceases to amaze me.”
Fisher ended the night with 16 points, and four key field goals in the final quarter.
Despite a somewhat underwhelming fourth quarter performance, it was largely Bryant’s play throughout the game that kept the Lakers ahead of Boston. The Lakers captain scored 29 points for the game, but 25 of those came in the first three quarters. He did not have a basket in the fourth for the first 10 minutes of the period, and the Lakers found themselves in trouble as the Celtics came back from a 17 point first-half deficit.
“We just had to be poised and understand they’re going to make a run, and we did that,” Bryant said. “They made a push but they never fully got control of the game. We made big shots when we needed it.”
The Lakers’ bigs in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol had a far quieter performance than they did in Game 2’s loss, but still came through on the glass with 10 rebounds apiece.
On the other end of the floor, a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett came alive for the first time in the series. After having only six points in the Celtics’ victory on Sunday, he had 25 Tuesday night. However, Ray Allen, who had a record-breaking eight 3-pointers en route to 32 points in Game 2, missed all 13 of his field goal attempts on the night.
“It’s a hell of a swing, I’ll tell you that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s basketball. That’s why you can’t worry about it. He’ll be back in the gym tomorrow and getting ready for the next game.I thought all of his shots looked flat tonight. I didn’t think he had any legs. … It happens to the best of us.”
When asked about Fisher, Rivers had this to say:
“He won the game for them. Derek Fisher was the difference in the game,” Rivers said. “He’s just a gutty, gritty player and he gutted the game out for them. I thought Kobe was struggling a little bit, and Fisher—he basically took the game over. I don’t know what he had in the fourth quarter … but most of them were down the stretch.”
Despite being tossed around like a rag-doll in the paint by Celtics bigs, Fisher would not give in to the overwhelming pressure of playing on the opponent’s home floor.
After the game, Phil Jackson spoke on Fisher’s effectiveness:
“When he’s got an opportunity to hit a key shot, it seems like he’s always there and ready.”
On the other end, Rondo, who had a triple-double in Game 3, finished with 11 points, eight assists and three rebounds.
It was said that Rondo would likely abuse the “old man” playing point guard across from him in the purple and gold throughout the entire series.
Not so much Tuesday night. In fact, it could even be said that Fisher “schooled” his young opponent on the effectiveness of smart play despite diminished skill.
If nothing else, Fisher has at least put his stamp on these NBA Finals. Kind of like he did during last year’s finals and the other three championships prior to that.
Game 4 will be played on Thursday, in Boston.