Four Nervous Ticks Add Up to a Laker Moment for All Time
Four-tenths of a second.
The Lakers should put it on their rings. Derek Fisher should monogram it on his cuffs. The San Antonio Spurs will gnash on it in their nightmares.
For the record:
12:00 AM, May. 15, 2004
“Four-tenths of a second, four-tenths of a second,” Devin Brown said softly, staring down at a towel late Thursday, long after the mugging, still naked and numb. “I still can’t get that out of my mind. How do you catch a ball and make a shot in four-tenths of a second?”
As long as it takes to read this sentence. Not long enough to also read this one. More than enough to last a Laker lifetime.
“Fish’s shot went up and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s got a chance,’ ” said Karl Malone. “Then I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s got a good chance.’ Then I’m like, ‘Dang! We won!’ ”
The game-winning jump shot having swished without a sound, the SBC Center fans frozen speechless, Fisher already running for the locker room, Malone couldn’t find anybody coherent to grab.
“I was looking around for somebody, but everybody was going crazy, there was nobody to hug,” Malone said. “So then I look over and see Shaq. And he’s just standing there looking at me like, ‘What, that good?’ ”
These, the moments that have not only given this core group three NBA championships -- fourth one coming? -- but an indelible place in a city’s heart.
Their 74-73 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday is why, against all conceivable odds, for five stormy years, Los Angeles has loved this team.
They uplift us, inspire us, devastate us, exhaust us, infuriate us, and ultimately electrify us into a passion that no sophisticated person should feel for millionaires in sweat socks.
They did it in 2000 with Shaquille O’Neal’s alley-oop dunk against Portland.
They did it in 2001 with Robert Horry’s rainbow against Philadelphia.
They did it in 2002 with Horry’s bomb against Sacramento.
On Thursday, they did all of that, all in the span of less than one second.
Can we start from the beginning?
Before Tim Duncan’s sprawling game-winning shot was followed by Fisher’s leaping game-winning shot, on an inbounds pass with .04 seconds remaining?
Before the Spurs’ officials were literally screaming foul in their locker room while the Lakers were wearily searching for words in their locker room?
Before the Lakers took a three-games-to-two lead in a series that, given this dagger in the black shirts, they will most surely clinch on Saturday?
Before all this, it started with defense.
“At the very end tonight, standing in the huddle, we were all saying, ‘Dang, we worked too hard to lose tonight. We worked too hard to give this up,’ ” Malone said.
They did. Nearing the end of the third quarter, they had a 16-point lead while holding the Spurs to 45 points, and it had nothing to do with heroics.
Gary Payton would not let go of Tony Parker’s ankle. O’Neal and Malone would not let Duncan breathe. Even Devean George, to complement his surreal 16 points, was swatting away balls and helping lost teammates.
“This is what I signed here for,” said Payton, the exact opposite of what he was saying the last time the Lakers were in town. “We played good defense. We played the way we should play.”
Then, they tired, and the Spurs started making shots, and the fourth quarter became a struggle like no other.
“This complete game is so indicative of how our entire season has gone,” Fisher said. “Looking great at times, we can’t be beat, then looking terrible at times, like we aren’t concerned with the way we’re playing. Individual trials and tribulations, collective trials.”
Hollywood’s team? The Lakers, out of breath and running out of ideas, had to start playing like South Texas’ team, and so they did.
Down the stretch, the Lakers were the real spurs, digging into San Antonio as it streaked past, hanging on to shirt tails and clutching shoe laces, anything to keep their season from the dust.
The Spurs had the ball and a 71-70 lead with 1:57 left when the Lakers pushed back with the sort of effort that is celebrated during parades.
Brown missed a three-point shot with a hand in his face. The rebound bounced out of bounds off a Laker.
Parker missed an off-balance shot. Manu Ginobili grabbed the rebound.
Horry, now a Spur, missed a three-point shot with guys running at him. Ginobili grabbed another rebound.
Parker missed a shot that just rimmed out. Malone, finally, grabbed the ball for the Lakers.
One possession, four shots, four misses, Laker ball.
“In 17 years I’ve seen a lot,” Malone said. “But this was unbelievable.”
Of course, Bryant’s shot gave the Lakers a lead with 11.5 seconds remaining. Did anybody think he wouldn’t make it?
Then came Duncan’s incredible shot with four-tenths of a second remaining, and you know something?
O’Neal may have never played better defense, leaping at him like a point guard.
Said O’Neal: “I was in his face and I couldn’t have defended it better.”
Said Duncan: “I couldn’t believe it went down.”
He hadn’t seen anything yet. Nobody had.
Two timeouts later, throwing the ball inbounds to Fisher, who spun and threw it in from 18 feet, Payton had the assist of a lifetime to a guy making the shot of a lifetime.
“We had to answer a prayer,” Payton said. “A prayer was answered.”
And maybe, right here, right now, a championship was won?
“If it’s like some of the other great shots that we’ve had around here, you have to think, maybe we’ll look back on this one as the deciding factor,” Rick Fox said.
Remember last season here, in Game 5, when then-Laker Horry’s buzzer-beating three-point shot bounced out and the dream of four championships in a row essentially ended?
Payback was a stitch.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.
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Closing-second shots that have won games for the Lakers during the playoffs the last three seasons:
April 28: Lakers 92, Portland 91
* Robert Horry’s three-point basket from the corner with 2.1 seconds left gives the Lakers a 3-0 sweep of the first-round.
May 12: Lakers 87, San Antonio 85
* Kobe Bryant scores on a rebound and put-back with 5.1 seconds left to give the Lakers a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
May 26: Lakers 100, Sacramento 99
* After Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal miss shots, Horry gets the ball at the top of the key and makes a three-pointer as the buzzer sounds to even the Western Conference finals, 2-2.
May 13: Lakers 74, San Antonio 73
* Derek Fisher swishes the game-winning jumper off an inbounds pass with 0.4 of a second left to give Lakers a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.