The Intangible Mr. Fisher

Darius Soriano —  June 9, 2010

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This is the first post from long time reader Jeff Skibiski. Like the rest of us, Jeff bleeds forum blue and gold, and will be contributing more often here at FB&G. Jeff and I were exchanging emails last week and he said he’d be interested in putting together a post on Derek Fisher. And then last night happened – Jeff has good timing. So, join me in welcoming Jeff to FB&G and enjoy his first post.

Despite being treated like a dying dog all season long by fans and critics far and wide, Derek Fisher once again came through when it mattered most for his team in Game 3, proving that there is still plenty of bark – and a whole lot of bite – left in his 35 year-old body.

With Kobe unable to connect and the entire offense seemingly out of whack after a second half comeback by Boston, Derek almost single-handedly willed the Lakers to a pivotal Game 3 victory, scoring 11 fourth quarter points that doubled as giant exclamation points in an otherwise subpar season for the savvy veteran.

“He won the game for them,” said Doc Rivers. “Derek Fisher was the difference in the game. 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.”

Just like a slow building crescendo, Fisher’s Game 3 performance turned what was previously an unglamorous, but quietly very productive postseason – scoring almost 11 points a game and connecting on more than 44% of his field goals – into the latest entry on his greatest hits tour. Somewhere between the end of the season and Round 1 against  Oklahoma City, he found his shot again, even if it has been overlooked until now thanks to more flashy plot lines like Kobe’s 30-plus points streak, Pau’s last-second put-back against the Thunder and Artest’s instant redemption buzzer beater against the Suns. When it seemed like the majority of Lakers Nation was panicking about the state of the starting point guard slot for much of the season, Fisher maintained his composure.

“Sorry, I’m getting a little emotional,” explained Fisher, fighting back tears while being interviewed after the game. “We work hard in this game and sometimes things don’t go your way. I love this game, I love this team, I love this guy (Kobe) and I love what I do. Nothing means more to me than helping my team win.”

No apologies necessary, Derek. Not after two consecutive Finals where he has proven himself as a key difference-maker – lest we forget it was only last year when his three-point daggers deflated an upstart Orlando team in Game 4. And definitely not after 13-plus years of exemplifying the selfless, service-oriented work ethic that defines the everyday lives of many Lakers fans.

After Tuesday night’s game, Kobe said this was just another case of “Derek being Derek. He makes big plays all the time and it never ceases to amaze me.”

While Kobe trusts Fisher implicitly, it isn’t difficult to understand why many fans and critics were down on Derek after a career-worst season in which his field goal percentage dropped to only 38%, while his shooting from beyond the arc dipped to 35%. With those types of numbers and several big nights from opposing teams’ younger, faster point guards, it made perfect sense when Kirk Hinrich’s name surfaced prior to the February trade deadline. Even though most fans pleaded with Jerry Buss to go even deeper into luxury tax territory to accommodate the Bulls point guard, the organization opted to stay with their longtime trusted gun.

Once again, Fish has somehow managed to leave his indelible stamp on another title run, making Mitch Kupchak and Co. look like geniuses for the time being and calling into question the historical significance of his accomplishments. No disrespect to the timeless efforts of fellow role players such as Robert Horry and Byron Scott, but there is something to be said about Derek’s longevity with the team and his uncanny ability to step up in big moments with such incredible frequency. I think it’s easy to be overshadowed when you share the backcourt with one of the greatest players of all-time, but Fisher’s playoff dramatics should at least put him in the conversation of greatest role players in franchise history, if not the entire NBA.

Heading into free agency, it is hard to imagine next year’s Lakers team without him, even if in a reduced capacity. Critics point to his faults – often streaky shooting, slow-footed defense, forced layups – as reasons for letting him walk off into the sunset, but Game 3 should serve as a reminder that he is just as vital to this team as any player not wearing #24 on their jersey. Finding a player who can make shots in quarters one to three isn’t too difficult, but players who can look pressure in the eye and make tough shots, take charges and make hustle plays when it matters most don’t exactly grow on trees.

With the battle against Boston certain to intensify as the series moves forward, there is no player I’d rather be in a bunker with than Fish. After all, there is a reason why Kobe chooses to put his unconditional faith in Fisher as he does no other player; he earned that level of trust years ago. This latest clutch performance leaves no doubt that this old dog still has a few rings to win before he trades in his Lakers tag.

– Jeff Skibiski

Darius Soriano

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