Derek Fisher's clutch performance against Portland a reminder of how experience helps in postseason
"You mean when I was throwing to Smush?" Bryant said, referring to Smush Parker, who played with the Lakers from 2005 to 2007 and provided a whole lot of headaches. "I shot with three mother **** on me. "That's the difference. Now I only shoot with one, maybe two."
Of course, shot selection still remains a debate regarding Bryant, considering he's played through a sprained left ankle injury entering the Lakers' game Sunday against Portland shooting only 36.1%. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson also went so far to argue that his shot selection lately has disrupted the offense. But Bryant's dig at Parker said it all in what he values from Fisher, who proved instrumental in the Lakers' 84-80 victory Sunday over Portland by making two critical field goals and two steals. Bryant likes Fisher by his side, a teammate that overcomes his difference in talent level with his similarity in late-game composure, experience and work ethic.
"I've been seeing it since '96," Bryant said of Fisher. "He's been doing it since day one."
At that point, both Bryant and Fisher were rookies vying for playing time any way they could. Fisher, who admitted being envious of Bryant because of his talented skillset in his biography, "Character Driven: Life, Lessons and Basketball," relayed a tale on how the two quickly forged a bond. One particular one-on-one session became rather chippy after Fisher thought Bryant was playing him too tight, an incident that soon led to an altercation. No one came to blows because neither were willing to strike first, but neither of them backed down.
"Fortunately, it didn't come to our punching each other," Fisher wrote. "We let it drop and I think we both looked at each other a little bit differently after that. We had tested each other and we'd both passed and earn each other's respect."
Since then, the Lakers compiled five championships and the two have been instrumental through clutch performances in securing each of them. That respect was on full display Sunday against Portland where the two drew up plays in the final quarter and proved largely instrumental in securing the win. In addition to Fisher's two field goals and two steals, he "made sense out of chaos," as Jackson put it, referencing to the Lakers' stagnant offense. Meanwhile, Bryant scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
"He likes structure and guys doing certain things and doing them the right way," Bryant said of Fisher, whom signed a three-year deal this offseason with the Lakers mainly because of Bryant's insistence that he stay. "He's a firm believe in making sure things are organized and guys are doing what they're supposed to do."
Bryant isn't just referring to the frequent speeches Fisher provides to the team, a reason why Bryant calls him "basketball Barack." He isn't just referring to the clutch shots Fisher has made in his career, such as his buzzer beater with -4 seconds left in the 2004 conference semifinals in San Antonio, his game winner in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals against Orlando or his 11-point fourth-quarter performance in Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston. And it isn't just referring to both of their willingness to play through injuries, such as Bryant's sprained left ankle and surgically repaired right knee and Fisher not allowing a significantly sprained left elbow two weeks ago against Charlotte from ending his consecutive game streak (483).
It also points to Bryant having another player who can finish off games in similar fashion as him, something that Laker fans should be ready to see come playoff time.
"Is Derek a true point guard?" Jackson raised, a criticism that's often mentioned because of Fisher's inconsistent regular-season shooting percentage and struggle with defending quick guards. "Perhaps not. A lot of people would argue that. But he knows how to get a lot of things done on the floor."
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