Reliving Derek Fisher's clutch playoff moments
Even when Derek Fisher's shooting stroke was off the mark, both he and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson remained steadfast. The reasons include Fisher's mastery of the triangle offense, his positive influence in locker room dynamics and, of course, his ability to make clutch shots. And it's at this time of year when Fisher usually fulfills the latter responsibility.
It happened again Saturday in the Lakers' 111-110 Game 3 victory over the Utah Jazz. In that game, Fisher scored 20 points on seven of 13 shooting and made a key three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 109-108 lead with 28 seconds remaining. I had argued just before the postseason that Fisher remained a valuable presence to the Lakers even as he struggled on defense and continued to shoot poorly, finishing his 14th regular season with his lowest points-per-game average (7.5) and shooting percentage (38%) since his 2003-04 season with the Lakers, although he improved his numbers in April, averaging 8.3 points per game on 41.7% shooting.Well, Fisher's shooting has no longer been an issue. Although he shot six of 22 (27%) in the first two games of the postseason, he has since gone 28 of 53 (52.8%) in the last six playoff games, showing he has found his shooting stroke just when the Lakers needed it.
Of course, this is hardly a revelation. After missing 62 games because of a foot injury in the 2000-2001 season, he set an NBA record with 15 three-pointers in the Lakers' four-game semifinals sweep over San Antonio. Fisher made a game-winning shot with .04 of a second left in the 2004 conference semifinals against the Spurs. He hit two clutch three-pointers in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic. And in an interesting twist, Fisher's performance Saturday coincided with the third anniversary of his spending the day with his daughter, Tatum, during her cancer treatment, only to return to the Jazz in the third quarter of a playoff game against the Golden State Warriors and lead the team to victory. (If only Utah fans properly gave Fisher his due now as they did then).Yet his resurgence still serves as a perfect reminder that Fisher, who will be a free agent this summer at age 35, can be counted upon to produce playoff theatrics. Below the jump is a rundown of the clutch shots Fisher has made during the playoffs.
May 13, 2004: Lakers' 74-73 Game 5 victory over San Antonio Spurs in West Semifinals
With Lakers guard Kobe Bryant covered at the top of the key, Fisher cut across the foul line and received a pass from Gary Payton. Immediately, Fisher turned around, fired the 18-footer over Manu Ginobili and saw the shot swish into the net.
"As it got closer," Fisher told reporters, "I knew the ball was going in."
The question entailed, however, whether the shot counted. Many of the Lakers, including Fisher, dashed toward the entrance tunnel, as officials determined whether Fisher got off the shot in time. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich had argued the clock did not react to the catch, meaning San Antonio should walk away with a victory, thanks to Tim Duncan's fall-away 18-footer with .4 of a second left. Officials saw the replays and concluded otherwise.
The Lakers' victory marked the first time a team had beaten the Spurs at home in 19 games. It also was a storied chapter in Fisher's legacy, with his brother, Duane Washington, describing Fisher's game-winner to The Times' Tim Brown as "the biggest shot of his life."
May 9, 2007: Jazz 127-117 Game 2 victory over Golden State Warriors in West Semifinals
Fisher's clutch performance capped a day where basketball remained rather insignificant. He had missed Game 1, as he and his family went to New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City so that his then- 10-month-old daughter, Tatum, could have surgery to treat a form of eye cancer. The surgery went so well that Fisher managed to fly back to Salt Lake City and arrive in time to play in the second half.
When he took the court with 3:18 left in the third quarter, the fans at EnergySolutions Arena gave a rousing standing ovation. Fisher forced a key turnover by Warriors guard Baron Davis with 27.3 seconds remaining as the Jazz trailed by three; he forced Davis to the sideline, deflected the ball, and Davis stepped out of bounds when he picked it up.
The game eventually went in overtime, and Fisher's corner three-pointer with 1:06 remaining gave Utah a six-point lead. The effort concluded an emotional week for Fisher, who reportedly wore sunglasses to and from practices and shoot-arounds while processing the news regarding his daughter's illness.
"We have been on an emotional roller-coaster, and we will probably be on it for years to come, because it is a cancer," Fisher told reporters afterward. "But we're going to help her beat it and help other kids beat this as well."
June 11, 2009: Lakers' 99-91 Game 4 overtime victory over Orlando Magic in NBA Finals.After the 2006-07 season, Fisher asked for his release from Utah so he could seek the proper medical treatment for Tatum. Shortly after, he reunited with the Lakers, and moments like he provided in the 2009 NBA Finals show why they value him so much.
Fisher became a lightning rod for criticism in the 2009 playoffs because he shot only 27.1% from three-point range heading into Game 4 of the NBA Finals. But that didn't deter him. After missing his first five three-point shots in Game 4, he made the baskets that counted. His three-pointer with 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game. His second three-pointer with 31.3 seconds left in overtime helped secure the Lakers victory.
"I have a responsibility to my team," Fisher told reporters, "that if I'm going to be on the floor, then I have to make a difference."
May 8, 2010: Lakers' 111-110 Game 3 victory over Utah Jazz in Western Semifinals.
Fisher entered the postseason riddled with similar questions as last season, including his age (35), inconsistent shooting and struggle to defend quick guards.
But in Game 3, he proved how he can still make a difference. He drew charges, resulting in Utah guard Deron Williams getting in foul trouble. He made shots, finishing with 20 points on seven of 13 shooting, including a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 109-108 lead with 28 seconds remaining. And he made defensive stops, such as disrupting Carlos Boozer on a missed layup on the following play.
Although Fisher's performance helped silence a bitter and antagonistic Utah crowd, it's a shame Utah's fans treated him with such hatred when his departure hinged on his daughter's health.
"I would venture to guess that if I was a construction worker ... who requested a transfer to another department for the betterment of his family, I would be commended for it," Fisher told The Times' Bill Plaschke. "But because it's sports, there's just so much passion added to it."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Derek Fisher celebrates with teammate Byron Russell after hitting the game-winning shot against the Spurs in Game 5 of the 2004 NBA Western Conference semifinals in San Antonio. Credit: Jeff Mitchell / Reuters