Derek Fisher overcomes early-season struggles with game-winner
Just before the Lakers broke away from their huddle, Coach Mike Brown reiterated the obvious solution on how to secure a game-winnner.
"Kobe, you're our best player," Brown said. "Go win the play for us."
Even if Brown and the 18,997 at Staples Center initially thought that entailed Bryant scoring the game-winning basket against the Dallas Mavericks, there was a deeper meaning. It all pointed to Brown's recent revelation that his long-term goal would involve a much more balanced offense that featured little of Bryant's high-volume shooting.
So there Bryant stood at the top of the key in an isolation set ready to shoot a potential game-winning shot against the Dallas Mavericks. Instead, Bryant saw Dallas guard Jason Terry double team him with Shawn Marion. Bryant then passed to Derek Fisher partly because it appeared Terry wouldn't have time to switch and mostly because of the trust the two forged since entering the NBA as rookies in 1996.
Fisher then squared up, elevated his shot and sank it into the net with 3.1 seconds remaining to clinch the Lakers' 73-70 victory Monday over the Mavericks.
"I don’t think he knew I was going to shoot it," Fisher said, "but he just trusted me to make the right play at that point."
In part, Fisher's game-winner served two purposes. First, the Lakers' offense looked beyond ugly and featured a seven-point third quarter, but the Lakers made some progress in learning how to win without Bryant carrying the load. Secondly, it cast light on Fisher appearing to make a breakthrough after largely struggling on his conditioning and shooting percentage, partly because of his role as the NBA Players Assn. president during the protracted labor negotiations.
"He's a professional, obviously, and he always keeps himself ready," Brown said of Fisher. "It was a little tough for him this summer because of all the stuff he was doing with the labor stuff. But he's slowly getting back in shape and he's starting to understand what we want on both ends of the floor. His hard work as of late paid off today."
This hardly erases the Lakers' struggles at point guard even if Bryant described fans and reporters who criticized Fisher's play as "idiotic." For one, Bryant clearly hasn't received enough ball-handling help, forcing him to dribble more and commit four turnovers against Dallas. But with the uncertainty regarding any future roster changes, Fisher's mentality represents what the Lakers need moving forward to ensure a win even if it looks as ugly as it did against Dallas.
Fisher stressed that in a morning shoot-around speech about rectifying Dallas' sweep against the Lakers in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals. So it's only fitting Fisher took that step to ensure that would happen, provide Bryant more help and add another game winner to his collection.
"This is what I do," Fisher said. "When opportunities like that present themselves, I’m confident in my abilities to step up and make the right play, whether it’s making a shot or making a read to create something for someone else."
"My experience in having played for this team for so many years and having been in so many big games, I feel I have a responsibility to the team to not be afraid to step up and make plays. I’ve been fortunate in my career to come in on the positive side of some big plays."
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