Derek Fisher did it again. With the Lakers in need of some late game heroics, Fisher did not hesitate to provide his services. He gave the Lakers nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter; the last three coming via a pass from Kobe Bryant to drain a 26-foot three pointer with 3.1 seconds left to lift the Los Angeles Lakers over the Dallas Mavericks, 73-70.
At 37 years-old, Fisher is towards the end of his career, but the fire still seems to burn strong and bright in him. You hear plenty of Lakers’ “fans” pleading for him to retire, or for the Lakers to trade him away. Those “fans” (I use quotations because I suspect their true fan status) must not know who this guy is and what he brings to the Lakers.
Yes, at Fisher’s age, he is no longer able to keep up with the lightning fast point guards of the league, and may not be able to score as well as he once did, but his leadership alone proves its worth to the team. And yeah, the Lakers could sure use an upgrade at point guard, especially with the new offensive system under head coach Mike Brown. However, even if/when that day comes, Fisher should still be a part of this organization.
Let’s begin with Fisher’s reliability. He is currently the NBA’s active leader in the category of consecutive regular season games played. He is at 510 and counting. All NBA players get injured, and many of them suffer injuries that require them to at least sit out a few games each season. Surely, Fisher has incurred some of these injuries over the years, and yes he has been lucky to not have had any serious injuries over the last decade (since 2001-2002 he has played in 98 percent of games), but a lot of this is his toughness and determination to be there for his team as well.
To help him be available each and every night, Fisher trains hard and eats right. You don’t have to be an expert to know he spends countless hours in the gym.
Yet how many times do we see him doing the same thing over and over? With the game on the line, how many times has Fisher come up with a big play, whether it be taking a charge, getting a steal, or hitting a huge three?
Too many to name.
Of the most memorable, we definitely have some good ones.
Who can forget Fisher hitting the game winning shot against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2004 playoffs to give the Lakers a 3-2 lead in the pivotal Game 5? Anyone familiar with Lakers basketball knows exactly what we’re referring to when we say “0.4!”
Then there was Fisher when he was with the Utah Jazz. Before the 2007 Western Conference Semi Finals, Fisher announced that one of children, daughter Tatum, had a rare form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma. After being in New York all day to be with her during an emergency surgery, Fisher flew back to Salt Lake City in time for the end of the third quarter of Game 2. Starting point guard Deron Williams was in foul trouble, and Fisher was desperately needed. He came up with a pivotal defensive stop on former Golden State Warriors teammate, Baron Davis. Then, in overtime, having not taken a shot in days, Fisher drained a huge three pointer to help seal the victory.
Next, we have some heroics from the following year. Back with the Purple & Gold in the 2007-2008 season, Fisher found himself facing a former team yet again. This time, he would face off against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semi Finals. Up 2-1 in the series, the Lakers found themselves down 100-88 with four minutes to play in the fourth quarter. You-know-who stepped up with three huge triples. He helped the Lakers get back into the game, who eventually took it to overtime, where they later lost.
Next up would be Fisher in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic. As many of us remember, he hit a huge three pointer over Jameer Nelson to send the game into overtime, and then another one in overtime to take the lead with 34 seconds left in the game. The Lakers were up 2-1 in the series leading up to this, and beat the Magic in Game 5 en route to their 15th championship.
(It’s best to start this video at the 2:30 mark)
Then in 2010, against the hated Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Derek Fisher again stepped up again in a huge way. With the series tied 1-1 and back in Boston, he willed the Lakers to a 91-84 victory. Known for his three point shooting, Fisher’s most memorable shot was a three point play the old fashioned way, scoring over three Celtics’ defenders while also getting fouled.
(Split over two videos)
He would go on to hit another critical three in Game 7 of the same series with 6:11 left in the fourth quarter. The Lakers would beat the Celtics in Game 7 and win their 16th championship.
And, of course, most recently, he scored 9 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks, along with this beautiful go-ahead three point shot on an assist from Kobe Bryant.
After the game, when asked about the game winning three pointer, he gave a classic response.
“This is what I do. 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 or making a read to create something for someone else. [With] my experience and 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. And I’ve been fortunate in my career to come in on the positive side of some big plays.”
Kobe, asked if he was surprised by Fisher’s shot, responded “not at all,” having seen him make big plays countless times over his career. Both back court teammates came in the league together in 1996, and have a strong respect for each other. In fact, Kobe likely has more trust in Derek Fisher to make a big play than he does anyone on the Lakers’ roster, past or present. The two seem to have the same killer instinct.
Yet it is not these end-of-game heroics that define Fisher. Fisher is one of the two team captains, and a true leader. Whether it’s him coaching teammates from the court, giving a motivational fourth quarter speech in a playoff game of great magnitude, leading by example through his professional work ethic, or just being there for his team in multiple aspects, Derek Fisher’s leadership is invaluable.
The mutual respect he and Kobe share allows Fisher to call out Bryant when others might be too scared to do so, or pass him up in the offense in order to make the better play, even when Bryant may be demanding the ball. Fisher is someone who Bryant sees as an equal, maybe not in skill level, but in credibility.
No, he’s not going to put up big numbers or assists on a consistent basis and never has been that type of player. He is considered by many as a “role” player, which he is. However, his greatest “role” is that of leadership. If anyone ever asks you what Derek does for the Lakers, or if you’ve ever asked anyone about Derek Fisher, now you know: This is what he does.