Buried amid the tension of the final minute, not to mention the championship-caliber celebration after Kobe Bryant’s 27-foot banked three-pointer, was another big shot by another player who’s also accustomed to it.
Dwyane Wade’s free throws put the Lakers down four with 9.3 seconds to play Friday against the Miami Heat, but Derek Fisher responded with a three-pointer with 4.3 seconds left. Miami’s lead was cut to 106-105, setting the stage for Bryant.
Imagine that. Fisher hitting an important shot.
“I don’t make those very often, so I was glad I was able to make one last night,” Fisher deadpanned Saturday.
The 35-year-old point guard, in the final season of his contract, could write a book about clutch shooting. Or a long essay, at the very least.
Most recently were the three-pointers he hit near the end of regulation and in overtime in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic, giving the Lakers a crucial victory last June on the way to their first championship in seven years.
And, of course, who could forget Fisher’s “0.4” fling against San Antonio in 2004, a shot indelibly etched in Lakers lore?
Fisher’s scoring has seen a modest increase since Pau Gasol returned to the lineup. After averaging 5.7 points in the first 11 games, Fisher has averaged 9.1 points since Gasol came back from a hamstring injury.
Fisher’s three-pointer was upstaged only by Bryant’s on Friday.
“It was fitting that something happened after that to totally erase everyone’s memory of what I did,” Fisher said, smiling.
Just the same, Fisher was the first to grab Bryant after the game-winner.
“I reacted like it was a Finals win as opposed to just a regular-season win in December, but it was just an emotional ending to a hard-fought game,” Fisher said. “It was just kind of my natural reaction.”
Phil Jackson hates the comparisons. Despises them.
The Lakers coach rarely accommodates reporters’ requests to compare Michael Jordan and Bryant, but Saturday was different. Jackson responded when asked whether Bryant’s late-game brilliance was the best he’d ever seen.
“He’s as good as Michael was in those situations,” Jackson said. “MJ was terrific.”
Indeed, the Lakers were still buzzing a day after Bryant’s last-second winner. There were even some revelations to come Saturday. Namely, Bryant said he meant to bank in the shot.
“If it had any chance of going in, it would have to be off the glass because the accuracy that you have to have for the ball to go straight in is just [immense],” he said. “That’s something that I’ve never practiced before. I’ve never, ever shot a one-leg three-point runner before.
“I squared up more than I thought. I tried to think about it like shooting a runner in the lane. I was a little further out.”
Bryant bared his teeth after the shot, a flashback to last season’s playoff run.
Miami, understandably, wasn’t thrilled with the loss.
“It hurts,” forward Michael Beasley said. “We had two guys on him. Just what we wanted. Forced him into a tough shot.”
Said Coach Erik Spoelstra: “I thought we defended that as well as we could. Got him going [toward] half court, stumbling with the ball . . . forced him into a one-footed bank shot at the buzzer. You’ve got to give him credit, give the Lakers credit.”
Bryant’s shot wasn’t the only stunner. It was surprising to see how many Lakers fans were still in their seats. Not to mention how many lingered after the game, captivated by the moment. Postgame traffic patterns were entirely forgotten.
“It was one of those games where it really just came down to the last play,” Fisher said. “I think fans still appreciate those, especially after having so many free tacos so far this year. I think they were OK without tacos [Friday] night.”
Said Bryant: “I think it was like everybody was kind of stunned, as we were. Then the excitement kind of set in.”
But not everybody stayed.
“I got a couple texts from a couple friends who apologized because they left early,” Bryant said.
Gasol did not practice Saturday but did some running and said he would play tonight against Phoenix. Gasol was poked in the left eye by teammate Lamar Odom in the fourth quarter Friday.
“He might have a little black eye as we go forward,” Jackson said. “He’s not scratched. Probably a ‘bruised eyeball.’ “