June 12, 2009
Fast Breaks: Magic-Lakers
By Chris Mannix
Game 4   Leaders
Lakers lead series 3-1   Points Rebounds Assists
99 91
Dwight Howard
(John W. McDonough/SI)
Three Observations
1. This is why the Lakers have Derek Fisher.

Few players have been as routinely criticized as Fisher this postseason. He's too old. He's too slow. His jump shot has abandoned him. Many of the criticisms are justified. But there was Fisher, knocking down a three-pointer to force overtime and connecting on a 27-foot bomb late in the extra period to give the Lakers a three-point lead.

"We've always said the character has got to be in players if they're going to be great players," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "You can't just draft it. It's not just about talent, it's about character, and he's a person of high character, brings that to play, not only in just his gamesmanship but also his intestinal fortitude."

Most impressive about Fisher's shots is the fact that he was having an entirely forgettable game until delivering down the stretch. The majority of the Lakers' post plays featured Fisher making entry passes to Pau Gasol. When the defense collapsed on Gasol, Fisher was frequently left open behind the three-point line. For the majority of the game, it was an effective strategy for Orlando: Fisher missed his first five three-pointers. But in the biggest moments, Fisher stepped up.

The game-winning three in overtime will get most of the attention, but it was the game-tying triple that best represented Fisher's cerebral play. With the Magic swarming to Kobe Bryant, Fisher took a lead pass from Trevor Ariza, dribbled a few times, saw defender Jameer Nelson backing off and fired away from the right wing. "I felt like I had the space and [Nelson] wasn't close enough to deter me from shooting," Fisher said.

"That [play] will haunt me forever," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.

Fisher's ability to understand situations like that one is a big reason why, at 34, he is still an integral part of the Lakers' roster.

2. Nick Anderson has some company now.

For Orlando fans, Anderson's name conjures up thoughts of free throws. Missed free throws, to be exact. The former Magic guard missed four straight freebies late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals, allowing Houston to force overtime and eventually win a tone-setting game. (The Rockets went on to sweep the series.) Dwight Howard now understands the feeling. With the Magic leading by three with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Howard went to the line with a chance to all but ice the game with one make. He missed both -- and went 6-of-14 overall -- which set up Fisher's game-tying bucket. We should have seen it coming: Anderson, now working in the Magic's community relations department, participated in the pre-game player introductions.

3. The Lakers win when the Kobe Show shuts down.

The first-half stats tell the whole story. Bryant, 16 points. Gasol, seven. Andrew Bynum and Fisher, two. Ariza, zip. Bryant took twice as many shots as any of his teammates through two quarters and the Lakers went into the locker room trailing by 13.

"We thought we played really poorly," Jackson said. "We came out of the locker room at halftime with determination."

They certainly did. The Lakers stormed back in the third, using a balanced offense led by Ariza (13 points in the quarter) to erase the Magic lead in six minutes and seize a four-point advantage by the end of the period. No one questions Bryant's scoring ability, but when he is constantly going one-on-one (as he was in the first half) and the offense is Kobe shooting and four guys chasing rebounds, the team struggles. When Bryant plays the role of quarterback and uses the defensive attention he draws to his advantage, L.A. is an extremely dangerous team.

(Mis)Play Of The Night
Mickael Pietrus has had a terrific postseason, earning praise from players and coaches alike and establishing himself as a top defender for his physical, in-your-face defense on Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce, LeBron James and Bryant. But Pietrus made a critical error at the end of regulation when he launched an ill-advised 20-foot jump shot that missed badly. On the play, Howard had Bryant pinned deep in the paint and Rashard Lewis was alone in the left corner. A pass to either one of them likely would have given the Magic the single point they needed to win the game.

Courtside Confidential
The least excited player in the Lakers' locker room after the game was Fisher, who reminded his team of a situation he faced in the 2000 NBA Finals against the Pacers. "He just said that Kobe got hurt [early in the series], came back in Game 4, won, and they thought that everything was going to be good, [that] the other team was just going to lay down," Ariza said. "And the next game, they got beat by 30. He just told us to stay focused because it's not over." ... Faces in the crowd: Tiger and Elin Woods, Gilbert Arenas (who chatted with Tiger in a hallway near the Lakers' locker room), Carlos Boozer, Dwyane Wade and the immortal Hulk Hogan, who ripped off a Lakers t-shirt during a timeout in the second half. ... Those Snickers commercials in which a wigged Patrick Ewing throws down a monster dunk? A few Magic players don't believe that is Ewing really doing it. Rafer Alston is so sure that the 46-year-old Hall of Famer with creaky knees can't do it, he would give Ewing a game check if he could throw one down. "No way," Alston said. "Running or standing still. He can't do it."

Looking Ahead
This will be a difficult loss to overcome for Orlando, which had the game in hand in the final minutes only to let it slip away. The task of taking three straight games from the Lakers (with two in Los Angeles) is a daunting one. Orlando will be going up against a feisty Lakers team on Sunday that looked and sounded after Game 4 like a team that smells blood in the water. If the Magic have any hope of coming back, they will need a bigger game from Lewis, who finished with six points (on 2-10 shooting) in 46 minutes.


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