Lakers History: The Night of Fisher’s Jumper With 0.4 Seconds Left

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

Some people just have that clutch gene, you know?

In the spring of 2004, Derek Fisher was already a 3-time champion who’d started and shared the backcourt with Kobe Bryant in the 2001 and 2002 Finals.

However, the arrival of a future Hall of Famer like Gary Payton relegated him to a bench role for the 2003-04 season – one in which the Lakers were gunning for their fourth title in five seasons.

Never one to complain, Fish adapted, and when he got his chance to shine again, he took it and ran. Literally (more on that in a second).

The occasion was Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, facing none other than the defending-champions San Antonio Spurs.

Gregg Popovich’s squad jumped to a 2-0 series lead, extending a winning streak to 17 games after a torrid end to the regular season and sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.

L.A. was a different animal though, winning games 3 and 4 to tie the series, setting up a pivotal return to Texas.

The stakes couldn’t have been any higher, but a signature of the Kobe-Shaq era was their performance under pressure. Phil Jackson’s team won the first two quarters in an extremely low-scoring affair and led by 16 points with 3:59 to go until the end of the quarter.

Done deal? Not so fast. The Spurs reacted and shut down L.A., limiting them to a mere 10 points over the next 16 minutes.

And they tasted victory too. Guarded by Shaquille O’Neal in the waning seconds of the ballgame, Tim Duncan nailed an impossible shot from the top of the key as he fell to his left. He later admitted he didn’t see the ball go in, but his jumper gave the Spurs a one-point lead with 0.4 seconds.

Had it not been for what happened next, Duncan’s dagger would’ve been one of those iconic playoff moments that get passed down from generation to generation.

“One lucky shot deserves another,” O'Neal said after the game.

With less than half of a second in the game clock, the Lakers were looking for a lob to Shaq or for Kobe on a curl. When the Spurs denied those, survival instinct kicked in, and the open man got the chance to be the hero.

In one of the most incredible sequences in the history of the game, Fisher caught the inbounds pass from Payton and in a single motion fired a turnaround lefty shot over the outstretched arms of Manu Ginobili.

Swish. Pandemonium. Escape.

Yes, Fisher immediately sprinted toward the locker room before the crowd at the then AT&T Center could even process what they had just witnessed.

“I just wanted to get out of there and not give them an opportunity to think that we didn't believe it went in,” Fisher said, showing incredible presence of mind in arguably the wildest moment of his career.

Despite the Spurs’ protests, the call stood and the Lakers won the game – snapping San Antonio’s 17-game home winning streak – before closing out the series in Game 6 in Los Angeles.

The purple and gold made it all the way to the NBA Finals that year, losing to the Detroit Pistons in 5 games.

Fisher left in free agency that summer, but returned to the franchise in 2007 and helped the Lakers to another pair of titles in 2009 and 2010.

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