Derek Fisher Puts Lakers One Win from Title


Jun 12

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The Los Angeles Lakers Thursday were not great, but they were persistent. The Orlando Magic was, as Hedo Turkoglu said, burdened with “stupidness” and seemingly unnerved.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy angrily said afterward none of it had anything to do with a lack of Orlando experience. But the first time in the Finals Magic players experienced a serious late game meltdown and lost Game 4 of the NBA Finals in overtime, 99-91.

“(Experience) had nothing to do with any of it,” spat Van Gundy as he sat down for his postgame interview. “That’s what I’ve got to say about that. Nothing. We’ve played enough basketball games. It’s a basketball game. These guys have played hundreds of them, thousands of them. Most of these guys have been in huge games. You know, it’s just too cliché that it’s all about Finals experience and the whole thing, as if all of a sudden we’re playing with 11-foot baskets and a smaller court or something like that. I don’t buy it.”

Well, there goes a lot of simplistic media explanations. What do we all do now? Those Van Gundys insist you actually think. Could that be good in sports?

The Lakers now have a 3-1 lead and no team ever has come back from that kind of deficit to win in the Finals. Especially with one of the last three scheduled games remaining in Orlando.

“This is the toughest one because it puts us down two games and on the brink of elimination,” said Van Gundy. The mood (postgame locker room) obviously was very somber. But we’ve got a couple of days here and we’ll get it back together and come out and do everything we can to win Game 5. Everybody is very, very disappointed. The emotions are very raw.”

The big shots were a Derek Fisher three to tie the game with 4.6 seconds left in regulation and another with 31.3 seconds left in overtime to give the Lakers a 94-91 lead.

The Magic didn’t give themselves much of a chance with plenty of time left in overtime as Turkoglu launched a quick, long three a few seconds later.

“I kind of panicked,” said Turkoglu. “I should have called time out and let coach draw some other play that could help us to win the game. We had it but just kind of slipped away because of our stupidness.”

The rebound was knocked out and picked up by Pau Gasol for a breakaway dunk and the game.

This was the kind of game that really hurt because Orlando outplayed the Lakers. Van Gundy didn’t want to credit Lakers’ experience. Actually, we are being kind when we say that. The Magic gagged this one up, including the clever Van Gundy, who admitted he regretted not telling his team to foul Fisher with that three point lead at the end of regulation after Howard’s missed free throws.

“We thought 11 seconds was too early, especially the way we were shooting free throws tonight,” said Van Gundy. “In retrospect, we gave him so much space to shoot the ball. We played like we were trying to prevent the lay-up. I thought we did a good job. We denied Bryant the ball, and then we just didn’t play Derek Fisher, just didn’t guard him. It was my decision with 11 seconds not to foul. Yes, I regret it now, but only in retrospect. You foul, they make two free throws, you cut it to one. You’re still at six or seven seconds. I thought it was too early at 11, though when they took it full court, I’ll have to go back and look at that. That one will haunt me forever.”

It was Phil Jackson who came up with the game winning strategy that lured Van Gundy into the mistaken plan.

The Magic should have had the game clinched much sooner as they led by a dozen at halftime against a lethargic Lakers team.

Orlando had Bryant shooting deep shots and the Lakers standing around and not attacking, especially in the first half. This was with Orlando moving the ball well to keep the Lakers rotations a step late and attacking the basket, where Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum got in early foul trouble (the Lakers played all 12 players in the first half) and Pau Gasol continually backed off on defense and allowed easy penetration.

Bryant wasn’t baring his teeth this time, mostly chewing gum and looking somewhat disinterested. It seemed a setup for an easy Magic win to even the series.

But the Magic would miss a staggering 15 free throws, including seven in the fourth quarter with 17 chances (the Lakers didn’t shoot a single free throw in the fourth). Howard missed a pair with 11 seconds left and that three point lead and the normally reliable Turkoglu missed three of four in the last 5:05 of regulation.

“What are you going to say? We missed key free throws down the stretch,” said Van Gundy. “Obviously, it had a huge impact.”

The Magic still looked like they had the game put away in what would become the second overtime game in the four played thus far in this compelling if not always well played series.

Turkoglu, who led the Magic with 25, made two big shots for an 87-82 lead with 1:34 left in regulation. Orlando again had the ball with a five point lead with 40 seconds left when Rashard Lewis missed a jumper. Kobe Bryant then drove and hit Gasol for a dunk, and the Lakers fouled Howard underneath. Howard then missed those two free throws with 11 seconds left and a three point lead.

Howard had 16 points and 21 rebounds and a Finals record nine blocks. But he also had seven of Orlando’s debilitating 19 turnovers and shot six of 14 on free throws.

The Lakers decided to take the ball full court instead of at half court for that last regulation shot. It was reminiscent of the unconventional strategy Jackson used in Game 3 of the Finals in Los Angeles in 1991 when Jackson gave Michael Jordan the ball fullcourt to make a drive and send the game onto overtime.

Coaches generally want to intentionally foul with five or six seconds left. Since there was 11, Van Gundy demurred. But in taking it out full court, the Magic was spread out and it would take time to get into the halfcourt. Orlando, predictably, trapped Bryant, who was just 11 of 31 for 32 points. Bryant threw ahead to Trevor Ariza, who was the third quarter hero in bringing the Lakers back from the dead. Ariza had 13 of his 16 points in the quarter and Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the turning point to him was with 1:28 left in the third and Orlando now hanging on to a two-point lead. It was then Bryant wrestled a rebound away from Howard and was fouled and the two got into a bit of pushing and jawing.

“That just kind of showed the grit that this team has tried to develop over the last year, to come back from circumstances that are dire or being down,” said Jackson.

Fisher, then zero for five on threes, was running open down the right side. Ariza threw across court to Fisher. Jameer Nelson, curiously finishing the game and effectively unable to supply an offense playing for Rafer Alston, backed off Fisher, who hit the tying three.

Of course, it wasn’t fully genius on Jackson’s part since Jackson said the Lakers thought the Magic had a foul to give and would foul on the inbounds. Orlando didn’t have that foul to give. Still, the full court strategy spread out the Magic and gave Fisher an extraordinary look at the tie.

The Magic seem devastated for the overtime, missing six of seven shots. Howard tied the game at 91 with one of two free throws with 1:27 left in the overtime.

Ariza then grabbed a huge offensive rebound after his own miss. The Lakers reset and Bryant waited for the double and found Fisher alone on top as Nelson overplayed Bryant. Turkoglu then missed badly, leading to Pau’s run out, a flagrant foul on Mickael Pietrus and the Lakers on the brink of a 15th championship for the franchise, 10th for Jackson as a coach and fourth for Bryant as a player.

“Personally, (my) experience in the last couple years and leaving this team and coming back and playing with this particular group of guys, it (tying shot) ranks right up there at the top,” said Fisher. “Even greater than 0.4 (famous shot to beat the Spurs) because I feel like we’re as close as possible to what our end goal is. I was just going to take over and kind of survey the situation. But Nelson was giving me a lot of space and I like to step into those threes. Even though I wasn’t making them, I felt like I could do that. I felt good to help the team that way.

We know we still have work to do, and we’ve got to be ready to go come Sunday.”

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