Derek Fisher is Lakers’ driving force again

Eleven years in 94 feet. A Lakers lifetime in less than 10 seconds. A career of shadows eclipsed in a streak of brilliance.

Old, slow Derek Fisher grabbed the basketball near the Boston Celtics baseline in the final minute Tuesday night and did what he has done countless times in countless moments for a team that has never considered him its star.

He quietly pushed. And pushed. And pushed. He dribbled past Rajon Rondo early, past Kevin Garnett at midcourt, legs pumping, head swiveling, fully expecting somebody would eventually stop him.

But as Fisher has long since taught us, if you push long and hard enough, nobody can stop you. And amazingly, on a floor covered in the sweat of legendary defense, in an arena filled with the cries of legendary desperation, nobody did.

Fisher drove right to the basket and took flight just as Garnett, Glen Davis and Ray Allen all converged on him. They collided in mid-air. Fisher dropped to the floor.

Just as the ball was dropping in the basket. Just as a dagger was going through a heart. Just as the biggest moment in a second consecutive NBA Finals was being stolen by the smallest presence in the gym.

“They swallowed him up,” said teammate Luke Walton with an amazed grin. “But he came out huge.”

Bigger than ever he is, this creaky Lakers leader who has once again saved a game that his longtime running mate and much brighter star named Kobe Bryant could not.

Remember when Fisher’s two three-pointers stole Game 4 from Orlando last June? This time he was stunning for an entire quarter to steal Game 3 from the Celtics, Fisher’s 11 points in the final period leading the Lakers to a 91-84 victory and a two-games-to-one series lead.

His coast-to-coast layup, a three-point play because he was fouled, was only his final basket of a period in which he repeatedly held off the surging Celtics amid a blistering roar from TD Garden fans who could not believe this was happening to them.

They pull within one point and Fisher fights his way for a layup? They later pull within two points and Fisher bounces off Allen for a jumper? Then he hits another running jumper? Then he fights through Davis and Rondo for a bank shot?

Is it any wonder that by the time Fisher grabbed that ball to begin his full-court flush, the Celtics were in such a state of shock, they could only watch him?

Equally as surprised were all those back in Los Angeles who were surely watching their televisions and crying for Bryant to take over. I can show you text from a friend who proclaimed that the game would only be won if Bryant won it for them.

Nearly every time, he does. But this time Bryant was scuffling through the end of his worst game in several weeks, making only one of six shots in the fourth quarter while Fisher was making five of seven.

The closet closer.

“He pretty much won the game,” Rondo said of Fisher. “When we made our run, he seemed to have answers every time.”

Fisher had all the answers until the end, when he was called over for the national television postgame interview. He has four championship rings, yet how many times has he been the one doing that interview? He has heroics that include his infamous 0.4-second shot that beat San Antonio in the 2004 playoffs, yet how many times has he been honored for creating the biggest moment on basketball’s biggest stage?

Fisher was so overwhelmed by the moment, he initially couldn’t answer ABC reporter Doris Burke’s question, appearing on the verge of tears.

“I’m sorry to get emotional,” he said.

He later explained that emotion, saying, “I love helping my team win.”

He loves helping his team win.

On a night when Fisher once again selflessly took Hollywood one step closer to heaven, he gave words to a legacy.

“To come through tonight again for this team... after so many great moments, it’s always quite surreal and quite humbling to experience it again and do it again,” he said. “But it’s like being a kid, man, you just never get tired of that candy.”

And, oh yeah, he also led a Lakers defensive push that held Allen without a basket in 13 shots.

But a larger question still remains — was Fisher’s 94-foot layup a farewell tour or a march home?

He becomes a free agent this summer and, given his age and the Lakers’ desire to find a quicker and bigger starting point guard, nothing is guaranteed.

But as I wrote in this space Sunday, the Lakers have to keep him.

His price probably increased Tuesday, there will be more potential suitors who will realize this old guy still knows how to win, but the Lakers have to do whatever it takes to keep him.

Championships are not something he does. Championships are something he is.

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