'Fisher 0.4' will be needed for champion Lakers to repeat
Derek Fisher is best known for his game-winner in the 2004 conference semifinals
But the veteran guard has also been a sharp outside shooter in the playoffs
The Lakers will once again need his shooting heroics to repeat as champions
Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher has been in the NBA for 14 seasons has won four championships and is currently the president of the players' association.
But for all his accolades and hours in the gym, he knows he'll likely be remembered most for his game-winning shot with four-tenths of a second left against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals.
"My name won't be the first one to come up [when you talk about the Lakers' championships]," he said. "It will be there, but you will have to look it up. But my name will be there whenever you talk about fourth-tenths."
It's a shame, really. After being selected late in the first round of the 1996 draft, the unheralded guard has crafted a remarkable career, playing an integral part in the Lakers' dominance over the past decade.
Yes, those teams will always be known as the Shaq-Kobe teams or the "Kobe Renaissance." But Fisher has been there for all the major moments, his game adapting and evolving to both his own limitations and his teammates' needs. He's been the perfect complementary player. And when needed, he's also been the perfect last-second, game-winning option.
Fisher's counterparts have all been recognized for their late-game heroics. Chauncey Billups earned the nickname "Mr. Big Shot" for his late buckets with the Detroit Pistons. Lakers legend Jerry West was "Mr. Clutch." Robert Horry was "Big Shot Rob" for moments like this and this, and Kobe Bryant is the "Black Mamba" (he has six game-winners already this season). Fisher holds no such moniker, even though he has hit numerous clutch shots. Perhaps "Mr. 0.4" doesn't have quite the same ring.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson likes to point to the 2002-03 playoffs, when Fisher, who stepped in for the injured Ron Harper, shot 61.7 percent from three-point range.
"He has always been great in the playoffs for us, and then has been great in the regular season because of his stability," Jackson said. "But he has always been able to really step it up in the playoffs for us."
There were the two three-point daggers he hit in Game 4 of the Finals last year, which led to the Lakers' eventual championship over Orlando. And Bryant remembers hyperventilating in the locker room after Fisher hit the shot to beat the Spurs.
"You know what, the funny thing is you think about he teams we have had, all the clutch shooters on our team: I knock down a big shot, Robert Horry, Brian Shaw. The list goes on and on and on," Bryant said. "Fisher is the type of guy who can go 1-for-7 and then step up and knock down the big shot when the game is on the line. He has zero fear.
"The guy brings so many intangibles. But that crucial moment where you need him, the guy steps up and makes a back-breaking three, a game-winning three. It is tough to gauge exactly what he is doing, but he is absolutely instrumental in all of our championships."
Fisher has a theory about why he is not recognized as much for his big shots as others: He is an accidental tourist.
"I think Chauncey has been in situations where that is what he has had to do for his team. That is his role for his team," Fisher said. "There has been an expectation built for that, and that is what he needed to do. That has never been what I was required to do. It just kind of happened that way. I'm glad it happened that way. But I think because of our roles are so different, his title is deserved. I don't have any claim there."
Such was the case against the Spurs in 2004. After Tim Duncan sank an off-balance jumper from the top of the key to give San Antonio a 73-72 lead with less than half a second left, the Lakers drew up a play in which Fisher was the last option.
"Even though it seemed like, with me being a lefty, that was the only way it could have worked out," Fisher said, "the ball was not supposed to come to me. That is what makes it so funny."
The first option was Shaquille O'Neal down low. But as Horry and Bruce Bowen doubled up on Bryant near the key, Fisher was left open to pop out of the lane, and quickly catch, turn and release a shot in one motion.
"It was probably because of how much time was left that I made the shot," Fisher said. "When things happen so quickly, you just do things instinctively. That is why it is different for guys like Chauncey and guys who know the play is going down for them -- they know the ball is going to be in their hands. There is a different mentality I think you have to have. Something didn't happen the way it was supposed to, something breaks down, the only thing left to do is come to me. I think that is easier, but it is definitely different than doing what Kobe does, where everybody in the arena knows it is coming to him."
As much as Bryant's offensive prowess and their size inside carry them, the Lakers are once again going to need Fisher to shoot well from the outside if they desire to repeat as champions.
Fisher has been criticized in recent years for being too slow to cover the younger, quicker guards, such as Golden State's C.J. Watson, who crossed over Fisher and left him splayed on the floor Monday. But the veteran has made the most of his strength to stave off the younger foes: He spent the next three possessions bodying up Watson, using his muscle to get into him. Some of it was retribution for getting embarrassed. But a lot of it was veteran savvy, knowing what is necessary to stop an opponent given one's limitations.
He will do that again in the playoffs, using the knowledge he has gained over his long career to help his team as best he can. It's not always pretty. It's not always flashy. But it is effective.
"I would like to think that not just the things that I was able to do that everybody knows and has seen but all the things that people don't know that affected my team in positive ways," Fisher said. "When you are on a team, a lot more goes into it than just the 48 minutes on the court. That's where championship teams are built. I'd like to think that some of those moments played a part in the success that we've had in the past."
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