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Archive for Friday, June 12, 2009

Fisher clutch for L.A.

June 12, 2009

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— Kobe Bryant is one win from an NBA title to call his own.

Derek Fisher got him there.

Fisher forced overtime with a three-pointer with 4.6 seconds left in regulation and then drilled another one with 31.3 seconds to go in overtime as the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Orlando Magic, 99-91, in Game 4 on Thursday night to open a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals.

It was the first time since 1984, when Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics hooked up, that two games in a finals have gone to overtime.

When the clock expired, Bryant, trying to win his first championship without Shaquille O’Neal, looked at Tiger Woods and wiped sweat from his brow in relief. Fisher, who has bailed out the Lakers in plenty of big games before, thrust both arms in the air in triumph.

The Lakers can wrap up their 15th title on Sunday night in Game 5.

Bryant finished with 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol each had 16 for Los Angeles, which came back from a 12-point halftime deficit. Ariza had 13 of the Lakers’ 30 points in the third quarter.

The Lakers are 7-0 following a loss in this postseason.

Unless they can force a Game 6, the Magic will remember this as another finals game that got away.

Dwight Howard was magnificent everywhere but at the free-throw line. Orlando’s superman of a center had 16 points, 21 rebounds and a finals-record nine blocks. But he made just 6 of 14 foul shots, and it was his two crucial misses with 11.1 seconds to go in regulation that doomed the Magic.

First, Fisher, who has made a career of hitting memorable shots in clutch situations, pulled up and without hesitating dropped a three-pointer over Orlando’s Jameer Nelson with 4.6 seconds left to tie it 87-87. The shot stunned the Magic’s maniacal crowd, which was hoping the home team could win its second straight finals game after dropping its first six.

“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,” Fisher said. “Even though I wasn’t making them, I felt like I could do that. I felt good to help the team that way.”

Fisher had missed his first five threes, but came up with one the little left-hander will cherish forever.

“My teammates and my coaches kept giving me that confidence to continue to believe in myself,” Fisher said. “I wanted to come through for the guys.”

Just as they did in Game 2, Orlando had one final try, and this time guard Courtney Lee, who misfired on a tougher-than-it-looked layup in that loss, wasn’t on the floor. The Magic inbounded the ball to Mickael Pietrus, but his long and contested jumper was off.

Bryant scored two quick baskets in the overtime, and Howard tied it when he split two free throws with 1:27 remaining.

On L.A.’s next trip, Ariza grabbed his own miss to get another 24 seconds and Fisher lined up and drilled his three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 94-91.

As he retreated down court and Orlando called a timeout, the Lakers bench stormed onto the court and surrounded the popular 34-year-old Fisher, who came back to the team after a short stint in Utah.

The Lakers spent the first half in foul trouble, complaining to the officials and generally out of sorts. Ariza was given a technical for slamming the ball to the floor and coach Phil Jackson got T’d up for shouting something from his high chair on L.A.’s bench.

Appearing in their 30th finals, the Lakers acted more like first-time visitors to a city choked with tourists.

“Fakers!” yelled one Magic fan.

“Cry babies!” screamed another.

The Los Angeles players and coaching staff slowly left the floor at halftime facing a 12-point deficit and seemingly in trouble.

They came back a different team.

After going just 1 of 10 on three-pointers in the opening half, the Lakers made three straight threes — two by Ariza — to start the second half, and when Bynum made two free throws with 5:58 left in the quarter Los Angeles was up 55-54, its first lead since 8-7.

Odom dropped another three, Orlando’s J.J. Redick matched it and the Lakers forward made a layup to give Los Angeles a 63-61 lead.

On Orlando’s next possession, Howard grabbed a rebound just outside the lane that Bryant wanted more. Reaching in, he tore the ball from Superman’s powerful grip and then broke free from his Olympic teammate, who grabbed him around the waist.

Bryant, Fisher and the Lakers, shooting for redemption after losing to Boston in last year’s finals, wouldn’t be denied.

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