BOSTON -- The beauty of Derek Fisher's game is in the eye of the beholder. In Los Angeles, Fisher is a modern day Rocky, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound pit bull who allows his body to be treated like a human piñata as he chases defenders over, around and sometimes right through screens.
"When you set a screen on Fish, you better be ready to really set one," Luke Walton said. "You set a lazy one and he is going to run right through you."
In Boston, however, Fisher is a member of the Floppers Club. Any little nick or bump by a Celtics big man seems to send the 14-year veteran careening off the court like he had been blasted out of a cannon. Meanwhile, when Ray Allen makes his move in the halfcourt, Fisher is allowed to cling to Allen's chest like Velcro.
"Derek?" said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "What, besides flopping, he doesn't do a lot extra. As far as the off-the-ball action, single double action, you are not allowed to hold. You're not allowed to bump and you're not allowed to impede progress. So you know, when that happens, then that has to be called."
Though the spotlight will shift from Ray Allen's and Paul Pierce's shooting, to Pau Gasol's head-to-head with Kevin Garnett, to Kobe Bryant's matchup with, well, everyone else, the most important player in Game 4 could very well be Fisher. With Bryant shadowing Rajon Rondo, Fisher will once again be charged with operating as Allen's shadow, a duty he performed exquisitely in Game 3, helping hold Allen to a 0-13 night.
While Allen has made a living playing catch-and-shoot off screens, Fisher has earned a reputation as a defender willing to do whatever it takes to get through them. Fisher's defense begins well before the cut, when he bodies up Allen and tangles him up to slow his progress. When the screen comes, Fisher flashes through three options: going over, under or straight through it. As he navigates the contact, he watches for any sign of movement. If the screener shuffles his feet or extends his hip, Fisher reacts in a not-so-subtle way to get the referees' attention.
"It's hard to be around Fisher because if you touch him, he's going to fall," Glen Davis said. "You don't know if he is for real or not. Sometimes he will show toughness and fight through it, and sometimes he will give up. It's hard to referee him."
Indeed, there are times when Fisher will lower his shoulder and barrel right into screens, delivering what former coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy calls "send-a-message fouls." Western Conference foes Carlos Boozer and Amar'eStoudemire have been on the receiving end of them.
"I can't let them put their body on me time after time," Fisher said. "At some point, I'm going to let you know I'm tired of you hitting me. The big guys are the screeners and a lot of the time they are getting a free run at you. Sometimes it's just about letting them know, 'OK, you have gotten 15 hits on me, it's time for me to get one.'"
Fisher's flopping has a considerable effect. Creating space for Allen sometimes requires movement to spring the All-Star shooter. However, when Boston's bigs see Fisher coming, the mindset is to make sure not to remain rigid lest they pick up a costly offensive foul.
"If I go to set a pick, I'm going to stay in my spot and hope he runs into me," Davis said. "If he doesn't, he doesn't."
Said Fisher, "I have this reputation for flopping. A lot of times they think if they don't set a good screen, they are going to get hit with a foul."
Springing Allen will be one of Boston's top priorities in Game 4, making Fisher's ability to get through those screens a critical component to the Lakers' defense. In an effort to even the playing field, Rivers said he sent "a lot" of film to the league office showing the Lakers delivering what he felt were illegal screens, effectively saying to the NBA that, if Fisher is getting the call, the Celtics want to get it too.
"[Fisher] been in the game long enough to understand [the referees]," said Rivers. "I thought he got away with a lot last night. I thought there was a lot of holding going on and a lot of flopping going on. But he's good at it, he's always been good at it. We knew that going into the series."