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Derek Fisher’s clutch play defined his Lakers career and a title run

Lakers point guard Derek Fisher celebrates with teammate Kobe Bryant following the Lakers' Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
(Paul J. Richards / Getty Images)

Sixth in a series about the 2009-10 Lakers.

The big moments never overwhelmed Derek Fisher. His ability to deliver time and again when games were at their most tense landed the point guard a place in Lakers championship lore.

Perhaps Fisher’s crowning achievement came when the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in a fierce seven-game series during the 2010 NBA Finals, helping erase the sting of losing to their loathed rivals in 2008.

On the 10-year anniversary of the Lakers winning their last championship, one can see Fisher’s imprint all over the series.

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He made a driving layup over the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis and Ray Allen while being fouled late in Game 3 at TD Garden, securing the win to give the Lakers a 2-1 edge in the series. Fisher made a three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter of Game 7 at Staples Center that started an 11-0 Lakers run that pushed them to another title.

In a recent interview, Fisher spoke of the 2010 championship and said that, talking about it now, he was able to “connect to that I was really there. I don’t walk around every day thinking of myself, ‘I’m this and that,’ and every day living in these memories and these moments,” Fisher said.

“It’s not until we discuss it and you kind of have to call on the memories and it’s like, ‘That really was me! That’s me!’ So when I talk about it, I’m just really thankful and don’t look at it any other way. It’s crazy it’s been a decade.”

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His career with the Lakers, which included winning five NBA titles, was defined by clutch performances.

Nobody will forget the game-winning shot Fisher made with 0.4 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinal series at San Antonio.

There were the pair of late-game three-pointers Fisher made in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals at Orlando, a series the Lakers would win in five games. One tied the score at 87 with 4.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The other three-pointer came with 31.3 seconds left in overtime to give the Lakers a 94-91 lead.

But Fisher’s big-time three-pointer against the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals probably carries the most weight now because the Lakers haven’t won a championship since then.

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Derek Fisher kisses his Lakers jersey after the team's win over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He was one of the key cogs in the final two title runs only by chance since Fisher had left the team following the 2004 NBA Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons. A family medical crisis and the departure of point guard Smush Parker helped set up his return to the Lakers after playing for the Golden State Warriors (2004-06) and Utah Jazz (2006-07).

His daughter, Tatum, was dealing with cancer in her left eye, so Fisher asked for his release from the Jazz to seek better medical care for her. Utah granted his request, paving the way for him to re-join the Lakers and play in the backcourt again with Kobe Bryant, for coach Phil Jackson.

The three of them were the final members of the three-peat teams from 2000-02 and they helped the Lakers reach the mountaintop again, culminating in the championship over the Celtics a decade ago.

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Fisher and the Lakers encountered a Celtics defense that was “relentless in their close-out to the three-point line,” said Fisher, leaving him in an 0-for-8 drought from behind the arc entering Game 7.

But he made one three-pointer in the first quarter, which regained him his faith.

His biggest three came in the fourth with six minutes and 11 seconds left, tying the score 64-64.

The Lakes never trailed again.

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Pau Gasol, a 7-foot Spaniard who became an All-Star in Memphis before joining the Lakers, is hoping to play one more NBA season and then in the 2021 Olympics.

“I knocked that one down in the first quarter and then that one in the fourth quarter. It was like I had finally understood in that situation, ‘Look, bruh, you’re not going to have a lot of space to get the three off. So you just got to get eye to the rim and shoot right through the close-out,’ ” Fisher recalled. “[Rajon] Rondo was great at closing out. He was right in my space on my last three, but he didn’t overrun me in a way where I felt like I needed to change my shot. So, in knocking that shot down, the energy in the building, which had been building for a few minutes already, was crazy when that shot goes in.”

For Fisher, the 2010 title run was a defining moment in his career because he grew up a Lakers fan.

He rooted for Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thompson and Kurt Rambis, especially any time they played the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

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Now Fisher is part of the Lakers’ brotherhood that has defeated the Celtics for the championship.

“From those experiences as a kid, it’s almost like you can’t really say you’re part of Laker lore and Laker legacy without beating the Celtics at some point. You just can’t. It’s not the same,” he said. “But it’s fitting that that last one was versus the Celtics. Like everything led up to that series, for Phil, for Kobe, for myself, for Laker fans. It was no better way to put a cap on a 10-year run for Staples Center, just for everything. It just meant so much to all involved.”

Tomorrow: Metta World Peace had an epiphany about mental health during the 2010 title run. How it changed his life.

The Lakers were a favorite to win their first NBA title since 2010 when the coronavirus pandemic stopped the season. A look at their last championship run.
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