Fisher Puts Lakers On Brink Of Title

Derek Fisher thrives under pressure — and the Orlando Magic do not.

Fisher, a man who has a career full of big shots, hit two of them late in game four of the NBA Finals that may give the Lakers a championship — a pull-up three with 4.6 shots that sent the game into overtime, then another with 31 seconds left in overtime to give the Lakers a 99-91 win and a 3-1 series lead.

“This ranks right up there at the top,” Fisher said of his three to tie the game at the end of regulation. “Even greater than .4 because I feel like we’re as close as possible to what our end goal is.”

After the game Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy scoffed at the idea that experience, particularly Finals experience, mattered. But the reality of game four tells a different story.

The Lakers fell behind by a dozen points at half as all three big men — Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom — struggled with foul problems. Orlando, on the other hand, was shooting lights out again, as they had in game three.

But the experienced Lakers did not panic. In the third quarter the Lakers made the kind of run you'd expect out of a champion — an 18-5 spurt fueled by Trevor Ariza’s 13 third quarter points. Ariza, the man that the Magic traded last season because he wasn’t a good enough shooter for their system, hit two key three pointers during that stretch.

The Lakers held a small lead through much of the fourth quarter until and 11-3 Orlando run gave them a three point lead with just 10.8 seconds on the clock.

That’s when it was Fisher’s time to shine. Orlando trapped Kobe Bryant in the back court with two men, but when Kobe passed ahead to Ariza it created a mini-fast break for the Lakers. Ariza passed cross-court to Fisher who brought the ball up, and was inexplicably given room to shoot a three by Jameer Nelson. Fisher, who had been shooting pull up jumpers in transition all season to the dismay of Lakers fans, made all that practice pay off  by draining the shot to tie the game.

Van Gundy said it was on his orders that the Magic did not foul.

“We thought 11 seconds was too early, especially the way we were shooting free throws tonight, but in retrospect we gave him so much space to shoot the ball,” Van Gundy said. “We played like we were trying to prevent the layup. I thought we did a good job, we denied Kobe Bryant the ball, then we just didn’t guard Derek Fisher.”

Orlando still had a chance, but after struggling to inbound the ball Mickael Pietrus got it and ignored an open Hedo Turkoglu at the top of the key and Dwight Howard matched up on Kobe Bryant inside after a switch and instead put up an awkward running shot himself that had no real chance. And the game went to overtime.

At that point, the experienced Lakers took over — Orlando shot just 1 of 7 in the extra frame. Meanwhile, with 31 seconds left, Kobe got the ball posted up and Nelson came over to double him, so Kobe swung the ball back to the top of the key to Fisher — elbowing Nelson in the face in the process — and Fisher hit another dagger that basically sealed the game for Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant had a game high 31 for the Lakers but in a very inefficient 11 of 31 shooting. Ariza and Pau Gasol each chipped in 16.

Turkoglu had 25 points for the Magic and Dwight Howard had 16 points, 21 rebounds and nine blocks.

But when the pressure of the game was at its peak, Orlando looked like a team that had never been to the Finals before. While Derek Fisher looked like a guy who has played in 30 Finals games.

And that was the difference.

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