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Fran Blinebury

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He may not get much credit, but Derek Fisher has played a big role in the Lakers success over the years.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Underrated Fisher continues to do Lakers' dirty work


Posted May 31 2010 7:39PM

LOS ANGELES -- Derek Fisher has taken his shots and he's taken his shots.

He came into the NBA as a guy who was too short, too slow, too stumpy to survive. He's lasted 14 seasons in the league because he's too smart, too tough, too stubborn not to thrive.

Here was Kobe Bryant again sitting in the glare of celebrity and achievement after his latest pair of how-does-he-do-that shots flamboyantly finished off the Suns in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. There was Fisher once more in his customary role of describing what it's like to hold the paint brushes for Michelangelo.

Yet he's got a sketch book of his that holds more than a few clutch playoff masterpieces:

- 2004, Game 5, West semifinals -- his running jumper from the sideline with 0.4 seconds left gives the Lakers a 74-73 win at San Antonio.

- 2009, Game 4, NBA Finals -- his 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left in regulation ties the score at Orlando and another 3-pointer with 31.1 seconds remaining in overtime beats the Magic.

- 2010, Game 3, West semifinals -- his 3-pointer with 28 seconds left at Utah gave the Lakers a lift and a 109-108 lead to put a headlock on the series.

"Nobody ever has doubts about Fish," said Bryant.

Nobody, that is, inside the L.A. locker room. But to much of the outside world in Lakerdom, Fisher is perennially and inexplicably viewed as the weak link in the chain.

Physically, he is the anti-Kobe, earthbound to Bryant's high-flyer, stout to Bryant's lean.

Yet since they came to the NBA and the Lakers together in 1996, they have been virtually two driven, hungry, hard-nosed peas hanging out in the same pod.

They talk pre-game and post-game about what they want the Lakers to get done. They text and talk on the phone. But even without modern technological methods, you get the feeling that they would manage to communicate simply via reciprocal vibrations.

In short, Fisher is the player that Bryant trusts most.

Never was that more obvious than the 2007 playoffs when Bryant and Fisher were apart. After winning three championships with the Lakers at the beginning of the decade, Fisher had signed a free agent deal with Golden State when coach Phil Jackson left the team and Bryant seemed to have one foot headed to the door. He was traded to Utah and -- in the midst of a family-crisis that had him shuttling between New York and Salt Lake City during the playoffs as his 11-month-old daughter underwent surgery for a rare form of eye cancer -- Fisher arrived at the arena in the third quarter of a game and promptly knocked down the winning shot in overtime.

"I knew we had to get Fish back," Bryant said.

So the Lakers did and everything went back to the way it had been, including Bryant taking the bows for the success and Fisher taking the shots across his bow for any shortcomings. If they ever established a wing for him in the Hall of Fame, the Fisher display would most fittingly be a bronze sculpture of that left hand and the bulls-eye that he's worn on his back.

"It doesn't bother me," Fisher said. "I've grown accustomed to it and actually I've tried to turn it all into a positive. I keep walking through the fire and doing whatever it takes for us to win. If I'm the guy that's always the target every round, that's OK as long as we keep getting to the next round."

Think of all the point guards he's lined up against and overcome through the years. From Mike Bibby in Sacramento to Tony Parker in San Antonio to Allen Iverson in Philadelphia to Jason Kidd in New Jersey to Jameer Nelson in Orlando, Fisher has outlasted them all in the playoffs. This season he's already had to tangle with the speed of Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, the size and strength of Deron Williams in Utah and the craftiness of Steve Nash in Phoenix.

Now as he prepares to line up against Rajon Rondo with Boston, he'll hear the questions and the doubts again.

"I'm pretty used to it," Fisher said. "I think for most of my basketball career, even as a kid, I was never necessarily the best guy on the team or even (among) the best two or three guys. I was always a kind of a team guy, the guy that kept everything together and just ran the team.

"So I've never looked at criticism as a personal thing. I've been on great teams. And when you have Phil Jackson as a coach and Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and they guys I've played with, you're not going to get much press or attention."

He's the chorus, not the soloist. He's the face that's often partly cut off at the edge of the photo.

When Ron Artest was getting the hero treatment for his put-back basket at the end of Game 5 against Phoenix (despite scoring only four points), Fisher sneaked in 22 points. When Bryant was performing his late-game heroics in the Game 6 clincher, Fisher hit a pair of clutch fourth-quarter jumpers that stemmed the Phoenix rally.

"I just try to keep doing what I do," he said. "You know, there's a song out right now called 'All I Do is Win' and that's pretty much what I focus on and I allow that to do the speaking."

In the sound of a whisper, it's how Derek Fisher roars.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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