The ball careened off the rim and into the hands of Pietrus, another clutch jumper missed by Kobe Bryant.
Magic, 87. Lakers, 82. 1:02 left.
By all indications, the Lakers were done. They were visibly weary and deflated from battling the Orlando Magic. The 17k+ packed inside of Amway Arena. The whistles, or non-whistles, of Bennett Salvatore, Mike Callahan and Scott Foster. The mounting pressure of not having won a Finals game away from Staples Center since 2002.
This was supposed to be the defining moment for the Orlando Magic.
The game that rattled the resilience of Kobe Bryant. That questioned the brilliance of Phil Jackson. That catapulted Dwight Howard into the stratosphere of greatness. That shifted the momentum of the whole series. In 8 months, the Lakers have played over 5k minutes spanning across 103 games. In just 62 seconds, they stormed into the fire, stole the Magic’ moment, and made it their own.
As Rashard’s wide-open dagger gracefully sailed through the air with 39 seconds remaining, Laker optimism may have been at its lowest point all season. For the first time in these Finals I considered the possibility that the Orlando Magic had a legitimate chance to shock the world. As Lewis’ shot glanced off the rim and into the hands of Derek Fisher, destiny had officially begun to take its course.
7 seconds later, Kobe spun into the lane and dropped off a no-look, over the shoulder pass to a streaking Gasol for a dunk.
Lakers down 3.
On the other end, Bryant wrapped up Superman, refusing to be just a helpless spectator as Dwight Howard hammered home the biggest dunk of his career. Howard got up off the floor, went to the line, and faltered under the pressure of the moment, missing both free-throws. Destiny continued its course.
The Lakers in-bounded the ball in the backcourt to Kobe Bryant. With just ten seconds to go, this was a golden chance for him to redeem himself from a pair of sub-par fourth quarters in Orlando. The defining game where he burns the double team, buries a contested 3 at the buzzer and gives the NBA a new commercial to run next season. It was Bryant’s legendary moment, and in just a split second, he displayed his growth as a teammate more than any other time in his career.
When the double-team came, Kobe stunned the Magic by instantly passing the ball ahead to Ariza. The Orlando trap had backfired and essentially given the Lakers a fast-break. Trevor swung the ball to D-Fish, Kobe’s most trusted teammate and the only other Laker with a ring. With the Magic on their heels and destiny weighing heavily down upon them, Derek Fisher stepped into rhythm and hoisted a 28-footer over Nelson.
The heavily criticized Derek Fisher, in one snap of the wrist, buried the biggest shot of a career that has been highlighted by big shots; and along with it, the hearts of the Orlando Magic. The rest of the game seemed to be nothing more than a formality. Orlando appeared dumbfounded by what had just happened, and they closed the game by missing 7 of their last 8 shots.
We will all certainly remember this game because of Derek Fisher’s clutch performance. And in doing so, we cannot forget that lost in the shadow of Fish’s grand moment, was Kobe Bryant’s. During the closing seconds of the game, Kobe stepped out of history’s spotlight, and by doing so, rightfully placed himself right back in it.
Jason Riley is a columnist for the Lakers Nation. In addition to this column, he writes on an array of topics that you can check out by visiting J-Ri.com. You can email him by clicking here, look him up on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter for in-game coverage.