By KEVIN McNAMARA
BOSTON - On a team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher can understandably get lost in the shuffle.
A 14-year veteran with a locker full of memories, the 35-year old Fisher knows his place in the team's pecking order. His job is to lead, defend and take the big shots if no one else is getting the job done. That package keeps Fisher in the limelight and one of the best nights of his career came Tuesday at TD Garden in the Lakers' critical 91-84 victory over the Celtics in Game Three of the NBA Finals.
With the Celtics collaring Bryant in the fourth quarter, the Lakers turned to Fisher and the crafty lefty delivered. Big Time. After scoring 15 points in the first two games of the series, Fisher poured in 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers hung on for the key win.
"Derek was huge," Odom said. "The plays were there for him to make, especially coming off of Kobe. He made some huge plays, pretty plays."
Those plays could lead the Lakers to their second straight championship. In the last 10 Finals that were tied 1-1, the Game Three winner went on to capture the championship.
With his team ahead 67-61 heading into the fourth quarter, Fisher was an animated participant in the team huddle. That apparently is nothing new.
"Like I said, he's our vocal leader," said Bryant. "He's the heart and soul of this team, simple as that."
Fisher then went to work. First he sliced into the Boston defense for a tough layup. Then he hit a pop in the lane, followed by a wing jumper. His two biggest blows proved to be back-breakers. The first came with over four minutes left when he breezed past Rajon Rondo and banked in a runner over Glen Davis for a 78-73 lead.
Then, with just 48 seconds remaining, Fisher snuck ahead of the field and made a layup while getting crushed by Davis for a foul. Fisher's hoop and free throw pushed L.A.'s lead out to 87-80 and all but iced the game.
"When he's got an opportunity to hit a key shot, it seems like he's always there and ready," said coach Phil Jackson.
Fisher said he made a point in the final quarter to play a two-man game with Bryant where if his man cheated at all towards Bryant - which virtually every defense in basketball chooses to do - he'd try to take advantage and make a play. Whether that was driving into the lane or hitting open shots, the veteran delivered and gave the Lakers their first Finals win in Boston since 1987.
"We didn't doubt our ability to win here, although we hadn't done it in the playoffs," he said. "There have been some good opportunities in the regular season to come in and play against this team. We understand when you want to be the best, you have to win wherever, whenever. This was a good win for us tonight, but we want to continue to build on this and make the necessary adjustments to give ourselves another chance on Thursday."
Getting the chance to still shine and make such a big difference in his team's title drive was clearly gratifying for Fisher. He may have Bryant and Gasol and Odom running around him but the veteran also knows that if he sees an opening, he can still step up and deliver.
"I think as you grow in this game and you put in the work that's required to still be around 14 years later, you know you start to recognize that being in this moment on this stage it's not a given. It's not something that happens every season," Fisher said. "To have this opportunity, you don't think you ever want to look back in life and have any regrets about anything. Five or ten years from now when I'm long gone, I would have hated to feel like I didn't just do everything I could have to help my team and live with the consequences. Things have worked out well, and we have two more wins to get to really put a nice cap on it."