Lakers-Magic: In Moment of Truth, Derek Fisher and the Lakers Leave No Doubt

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJune 12, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 11:  Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a game-tying three-point shot over Jameer Nelson #14 of the Orlando Magic in the fourth quarter of Game Four of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 11, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

This is why Phil Jackson keeps 34-year-old Derek Fisher around.

Some wanted him to go away or play behind Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar. Distraught Los Angeles fans cried that his slow, methodical approach to the game would be torched until the Lakers melted.

He couldn't shoot for most of the first three playoff rounds, hitting in the low 30s and high 20s from beyond the arc. Young, turbo-charged point guards turned him into a defenseless refrigerator. Aaron Brooks, Deron Williams and even veteran Chauncey Billups made the point guard version of Confucius look ancient.

Thursday night, wisdom struck back with a vengeance.

After missing his first five three-pointers, Fisher coolly dribbled the ball up the floor off a pass from Trevor Ariza, with the Lakers trailing by three, and sent Game Four into overtime with another timely long-ball. He nailed more than just lazy defense by Jameer Nelson.

He nailed his critics, his demons and the ghosts of the 2008 Finals. Those Celtic poltergeists can no longer hiss and boo.

Now, the Lakers are the ones spooking the other team into terrified submission.

"It's about character," Jackson said.

Fisher and the Lakers have plenty of it. With his two clutch treys and survival skills learned through a year-long trek back to championship respectability, the Lakers erased a 12-point halftime deficit to thwart the Orlando Magic 99-91 in overtime.

The Lakers can close out the series Sunday night at Amway Arena or Tuesday at Staples Center. Surely, this would-be fortknight is over.

Not even seven-year-old Gina Marie Incandela could sing the Magic to a series tie. Orlando won the seven other times she belted the National Anthem.

The Lakers victory was as much about obliterating records and superstitions as establishing them.

To draw one win closer to his fourth championship, Kobe Bryant needed the kind of rebound performance that eluded him last year.

Though he shot a dismal 11-31, he acted like a closer and added eight assists and seven rebounds to his 32 points. This time, he also made his free throws.

Couldn't you replace the Magic in this game with last year's Lakers? Was this not similar to that epic Boston Celtics comeback?

The Magic sprinted to a 12-point halftime lead that would have been bigger save double-digit turnovers and bricked free throws.

Bryant and the Lakers, at first, seemed disinterested in playing defense. Hedo Turkoglu sliced through porous coverage for three inside buckets in the first quarter.

Rafer Alston water bugged and waltzed his way to the basket for nine points.

Reserve center Marcin Gortat converted a pair of uncontested dunks.

For 24 minutes, Orlando followed the energized effort of its leader Dwight Howard and appeared poised to tie the series.

Howard had grabbed as many rebounds at the half, 14, as the Lakers. He finished the contest with 16 points, 21 rebounds and nine blocks.

He made every loose ball his own. He manned the paint and altered countless shots. He used his frame to send Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to the bench early, each with two quick fouls.

In the first half, Disneyworld kicked Disneyland in the rear.

Then, the Lakers emerged from the locker room and showed what they had learned after an endless summer of questions about their moxie.

First lesson: this stuff isn't for the Mickey Mouses of the world. A champion knows how to turn on its inner Tyrannosaurus Rex.

If this game was a final scene in Jurrasic Park, the Lakers would be the ones boarding the getaway helicopter.

The Magic fell prey to stupidity and inexperience. Yes, Stan Van Gundy, it matters when you've done this before.

Title teams execute under pressure. They make free throws, run superior plays and respond to dagger shots with even better ones.

Two examples of Orlando's dangerous adolescence blared like a haywire car alarm in the final two possessions of regulation.

This was after Dwight Howard missed two free throws with the Magic ahead 87-84. Make one of those, and this thing heads back to LA for Game Six.

With 11 seconds left, the Magic opted not to foul on the catch. Instead, a premature double team on Bryant allowed Fisher to shake free for his game tying shot. Nelson flubbed by not chasing the vet off the arc.

Again, even if Fisher had layed it in, a few more free throws from Orlando would have guaranteed a Game Six.

And, oh yeah, about those free throws. Missing 15 of 37 freebies is a recipe for suicide. Missing six of your last eight attempts, at home, is pulling the trigger.

Turkoglu, an 80 percent foul shooter for his career, clanged three of four in the final period.

Then, after allowing a famously big-time shooter a great look at his shot, the Magic ran the kind of final play that can only be described as, "what the hell was that?"

Pressure defense on the inbounds pass forced Turkoglu to call one of Orlando's two final timeouts. The Magic still had one left and should have used it when Mickael Pietrus caught the ball in no-man's land with 3.6 seconds left.

The team's two best crunch-time shooters, Rashard Lewis and Turkoglu, could not get the ball back to throw up a shot. Instead, Pietrus chucked up a desperation fadeaway.

Champions don't gag on such grand opportunities. They embrace the pressure and use it to suffocate the opponent.

Last year, the Lakers were not ready for the Celtics resolve.

This time, with an extra five minutes to decide the series outlook, the Lakers stole the moment and the momentum back.

Bryant began the period with a turnaround in the lane. Fisher drilled another triple.

Gasol sealed the win with a fastbreak dunk off a Magic turnover. He provided the exclamation point with a dunk in the final seconds after a flagrant foul from Pietrus.

Yeah, Gasol, the guy who despises contact. He could teach the Magic a thing or two about toughness.

Champions don't gift the ball to the other team 17 times, especially at home. If Howard's defensive performance was his most inspired of the series, his seven give aways alone proved lethal.

The Lakers committed just seven turnovers.

Ariza's hustle and grit led to 16 points and nine rebounds. Add another steal to his growing playoff resume. He turned this one into a monster jam.

When the euphoria of a probable Lakers title dissipates, GM Mitch Kupchak faces his toughest decision in years. Will his free agent priority be the can-do-everything but sometimes-doesn't-show-up Odom or Ariza, the athletic pest who has also become a dead-eye three-point shooter?

These are the luxurious questions champions get to ask.

The Magic are still searching for that closer. Turkoglu, who willed in a stepback three and a tough drive to give Orlando a five-point cushion late, should have been it.

In the second half, Disneyworld afforded Disneyland the kind of chance it never should have.

With 11 seconds left and a Game Six still within reach, the Mickey Mouse in this series let the dinosaur out of its cage.

Fisher's reaction after his second three in overtime wasn't a smile. It was a roar.

After 48 minutes of questionable calls and a 17-shot free throw discrepancy in Orlando's favor, the oldest player on the floor became the great equalizer.

The Magic boast the talent to be up 3-1 in this series. If Courtney Lee had completed Turkoglu's flawless lob pass in Game Two and Howard had sunk one of two free throws at the end of regulation in Game Four, the underdogs would be barking all the way to the franchise's first championship parade.

It was appropriate that referees did not call a foul when Bryant elbowed Nelson in the mouth just before his final pass to Fisher.

Karma. You get what you give.

Champions take advantage of seemingly one-sided officiating. If the refs blew too many whistles, the Magic just blew it.

At this level of competition, acumen and experience can beat sheer talent.

With 11 seconds left, Derek Fisher stepped into destiny again and helped the Lakers make a loud statement.

He might be 34, but his sage mind has not aged.

With one more win, Fisher will face an even tougher dilemma than deciding whether to fire up a three with the game on the line.

Bryant can help.

On which hand will he wear his fourth ring?

This is what champions do.

No doubt.


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