By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted May 20 2009 3:54AM
LOS ANGELES -- Instead of going through every last offensive set and defensive rotation with their one and only practice day before the Western Conference finals began, the Lakers spent much of Monday in preparation for their series with Denver by sitting back and watching the movie "Big Fish."
It seemed like an odd choice. After all it wasn't a sports movie, a war movie or your typical rah-rah film. "Big Fish" is about an old guy telling stories that straddle the line between fact and fiction about his life.
Phil Jackson, the motivation maestro, wouldn't reveal the reason behind the film selection, saying "that's for us, not for you." But after seeing Derek Fisher have his best game of the Playoffs in the Lakers' thrilling 105-103 Game 1 win on Tuesday, maybe the message was plain, simple and right there in the title all along: Big Fish.
As in, "Hey, Derek! Yeah you, Fish! We know you're 34-years old and your numbers in the second round plummeted like Rosie O'Donnell's relevance. And we know that you have a tough assignment in Mr. Big Shot ahead of you and all. But you'll always be Mr. Bigger Shot after that make with 0.4 seconds left against San Antonio a couple of years back. We need you to be that guy again. You're the dude who came back from Utah and gave Kobe Bryant somebody he could trust in the foxhole when he was calling up radio stations and saying he'd rather play on Pluto then wear the purple and gold. You're big for us. We need you. Now."
Fisher didn't score 40 on Tuesday -- including 18 in the fourth quarter -- like Bryant did. He didn't come up with the game-saving steal with 30 seconds left either, like Trevor Ariza did when the forward morphed like Rayden in Mortal Kombat to swipe an inbounds pass. Despite that, the veteran guard was just as important as anyone on his team for giving the Lakers a shot to win.
Fisher literally matched Chauncey Billups shot for shot (they were both 5-for-13 from the floor) and his final numbers (13 points, six assists) looked awful similar to the Nuggets All-Star's (18 points, eight assists). He finally found his stroke after starting the first 11 and a half games of this postseason shooting a paltry 26-for-77 from the field (33.7 percent).
He was 0-for-6 in the first half before Bryant swung the ball to him in the corner with the clock winding almost at zero and L.A. down by two. Fisher drained the three to give his team the improbable halftime lead after it trailed Denver by as many as 13 in the early going.
"I was just telling myself, 'Well, it's about time you made one,' but I didn't see that as the garage door opening and all of the sudden things were going to go great from that point on," Fisher said. "I really just tried to stay focused and continue to take the shots I know I'm capable of making."
Things did go great though. Fisher hit four of his six shot attempts in the second half. He scored five points in a row in the third quarter to turn a one-point hole into a four-point cushion. The Lakers trailed again in the fourth quarter, this time by five with 6:48 to go and Fisher on the bench. He subbed in for Farmar and within four minutes he had assisted on a Bryant jumper and hit a go-ahead three from the corner to give L.A. its first lead of the quarter with 2:30 remaining in the game. He even properly gave a foul with 3.2 seconds left to prevent Denver from hoisting a potentially game-tying 3, something that Dallas couldn't execute in the previous round.
An unexpected lift from Fisher and it didn't matter that the Lakers started a game flat again and allowed Denver's bigs to be the aggressors. It didn't matter that Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points on 14-for-20 shooting after averaging 14.5 points per game on 32.8 percent from the field against L.A. during the regular season. Andrew Bynum's six-point, six-rebound, five-foul night wasn't damning and the Nuggets' 35-to-24 advantage in free throw attempts didn't settle the outcome either.
It's a moot point that Jackson said Denver "outplayed" the Lakers and Billups said the Nuggets "missed out on an opportunity to steal this game."
L.A. won with its two captains, Fisher and Bryant, leading the way. They came in to the organization back in '96 together, they won three rings together and they won Tuesday's game together, putting the Lakers just seven wins away from ring number four.
Bryant didn't take the bait when a reporter asked him about Jerry West declaring LeBron James as the best individual player in the league today, saying that "that's not my goal, that's not mission ... my mission is to win a championship."
While he evaded the James question, he readily praised Fisher who has guided Bryant on his mission along the way as his steady No. 2 (both in backcourt relation and jersey number).
"He's an ultimate professional," Bryant said. "It's hard for guys when they don't get a lot of touches ... and all of sudden they get that ball in the corner and they knock it down like they've been in rhythm all game, that's very, very tough to do."
Fisher has kept his mouth shut throughout his struggles. He heard everybody say he was over the hill when 20-something speedsters like Utah's Deron Williams and Houston's Aaron Brooks ran him ragged in the opening rounds. He didn't complain while his minutes decreased in the postseason while his backups -- Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown -- got more burn.
"It feels good to be involved in the action," Fisher said. "As an athlete if you're involved in the action and you're mixing it up, even if you make a great pass to give somebody else a great shot, there's just a feeling involved with that that nothing else really gives you. That's what gets my blood going."
And as the heart of the Lakers, when his blood gets going, so does the team's.
After the game, Jackson described Fisher as a "big person," despite Fisher's 6-foot-1 frame and a book rested in the point guard's locker titled Make the BIG TIME Where You Are.
That's what he just accomplished, the Lakers' Big Fish.
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