Derek Fisher proves his worth once again in 91-84 Game 3 victory over Boston Celtics
"He said, 'If before the game started you knew they would put us in the fourth with the lead, would any of us be mad?'" Lakers forward Luke Walton recalled Fisher saying. "The answer [to] that is no. You have a lead and a chance to get home court, you take that. People were kind of down and were worried a little bit."
That started with Fisher, whose 11 fourth-quarter points on five of seven shooting secured a 91-84 Game 3 victory Tuesday at TD Garden, gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead and allowed them to retake home-court advantage. "I love helping my team win," Fisher said during an emotional postgame television interview. His performance added another chapter to his playoff legacy. It's the reason why the Lakers need to re-sign him this off-season as nearly everyone agreed that Fisher's effort won the game.
Boston Coach Doc Rivers said Fisher "pretty much won the game." Celtics guard Rajon Rondo called Fisher "the difference in the game" and described him as a "gutty, gritty player." And Lakers guard Kobe Bryant described Fisher as the "heart and soul of this team."
Sure, there were other elements to the victory.
The Lakers closed out the first quarter with a 26-17 lead, thanks to a 21-5 run that featured aggressive drives to the basket, timely passing and precision defense, as well as stabilizing contributions from Walton and Lamar Odom (12 points) as Ron Artest got in early foul trouble and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson closely monitored Andrew Bynum's right knee injury even more because of the quick turnaround between Games 2 and 3 as well as the long flight to Boston. And the Lakers, led by Fisher, held Ray Allen to zero of 13 shooting, one game after he broke the NBA Finals record in three-pointers.
The Lakers also made some key late-game plays such as Artest's deflection, Odom's driving layup, Pau Gasol's seven-foot turnaround bank shot and Bryant's 15-footer. But in reality those efforts would have been wasted if not for Fisher. They would be dissecting why their offense remained stagnant and lacked the necessary ball and player movement. Many would have taken a closer look at Bryant's shot selection, whose 29 points on 10 of 29 shooting featured ill-advised shots as well as necessary shots to keep the Lakers in the game. Nonetheless, Jackson said afterward that "he's got to get better productivity out of it." And we would've been scrutinizing why the Lakers didn't give Gasol and Bynum more than 20 attempts, a clip that locked them to 20 combined points.
Instead, the Lakers' Game 3 win illustrated how much the Lakers trust Fisher. Odom argues Fisher's picture would be under the word "clutch" in the dictionary. Artest often credits Fisher for "taking him to school," adding that his lessons helped Artest learn to temper his shot selection, which stayed at four attempts in Game 3. Walton describes Fisher as "unbelievable" and the "best guy in the world." And Bryant paid the biggest compliment of all.
"He's the guy that pulls everybody together and is always giving positive reinforcement," Bryant said of Fisher. "I'm the opposite. We play off each other extremely well.... He's really the only one I listen to. Everybody else is a bunch of young kids."
Fisher simply chalked up the strategy to Fisher and Bryant playing off each other by making the Boston defense become overly fixated on Bryant, who often set screens for Fish. Jackson credited Fisher's scoring to what he calls the "direct line principle," where if no one is confronting a man with a ball, that player should keep driving to the basket. But clearly Fisher saved Bryant from himself, who wanted to bail out an ineffective offense but further exacerbated problems with his one-of-six fourth-quarter clip.
Said Fisher: "Even when things maybe aren't going the way I'd like them to go for reasons I can control and some I can't, I still pretty much keep my mouth shut and just keep doing my job and remain faithful that things will come around when they need to."
That time came in Game 3 with two consecutive jumpers, giving the Lakers a 76-70 lead with 5:15 remaining. With Gasol acknowledging the team needed to find a way to "grind out a win," Fisher exemplified that effort when an off-balance running bank shot gave the Lakers a 78-73 advantage with 4:43 left in the game. And for those wondering what served as the turning point of the game, look no further than Fisher's coast-to-coast layup past Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. After crashing into the padding underneath the basket because of Garnett's foul, Gasol immediately picked up Fisher and embraced him, with the rest of the Lakers following suit. Moments before his three-point play gave the Lakers an 87-80 lead with 48.3 seconds remaining, Fisher wore a resolved and determined look. But inside, emotions ran high.
"To see Pau's reaction and my teammates' reactions, that's why those moments feel so good to me," Fisher said. "Hitting the floor didn't feel that good to be honest, but Pau's reaction and Lamar and Kobe and what the guys were saying to me, that's why those things feel so good."
But it also brought to life Fisher's latest teachings to the team. After the Game 2 loss, Fisher read an undisclosed book about running a corporation and how the company's success hinges on trust. He used that as a lesson for the team to trust one another, to trust the triangle offense, to trust the coaching staff and to trust that a teammate can pick another one back up. And with little else working for the Lakers down the stretch, Fisher showed why the Lakers can trust him. After all, the Lakers wouldn't have written on the white board "2 more wins" had it not been for Fisher's heroics.
"He follows them himself," Lakers guard Shannon Brown said of Fisher's teachings. "He plays for a reason. He's trying to get No. 5."
--Mark Medina in Boston
Photo: Lakers guard Derek Fisher, left, collides with Boston forward Glen Davis as he attempts a fourth-quarter shot during Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, is called for a foul as he charges past Boston guard Ray Allen during Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.