The final buzzer sounded and they shared an embrace… again. Two teammates, who in their 14-year career have started in 116 playoff games (more than any other duo in NBA history) and have won four championships together. One is a global superstar who is as skilled as he is ferocious. The other is a local hero who is as intelligent as he is calm.
What makes them different is what makes them leaders on this Laker team, but one thing they have in common is what makes them winners — FEARLESSNESS. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are not captains of this defending championship team simply because of seniority. They lead this team into battle everyday because, frankly, they’re good at it and tonight’s Game 3 was just another display.
Having lost Game 2 on their own home court, the defending champions sought to gain their advantage back — on the road. Though the Lakers had won their previous two regular season games on the parquet floor, the last playoff memory they had there was a devastating one, but they showed tonight, in front of a Laker-detesting crowd, that 2008 was a long time ago.
“We didn’t doubt our ability to win here,” Derek Fisher said. “We understand when you want to be the best, you have to win wherever, whenever.”
Wherever was TD Banknorth in Boston, MA. Whenever was Game 3 of the NBA Finals and the Lakers still want it… to be the best.
It appeared when the game began that the Celtics had pocketed some momentum in their Game 2 win. Kevin Garnett, ineffective and unproductive in the last two meetings, scored the Celtics’ first six points on his way to a 25-point game. After a 7-point Celtics lead had exposed the Lakers’ slow reaction on defense, not to mention an apparent difficulty to score, Ron Artest had suddenly picked up two quick fouls after just 2:15 of game. It didn’t look good for the visiting team.
Phil Jackson called a timeout, however, sat some of his starters and suddenly the Lakers were more than just breathing — they were playing and playing well enough to gain a 17-point lead.
Lamar Odom, having collected more fouls than points in the first two games, banked in a three-pointer, blocked Big Baby’s attempt, and accepted a pass from Derek Fisher on a fast break, got fouled and converted the free throw for a three-point play. He finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and a game leading +14 on his stat line. Maybe those Khloe Kardashian masks that were passed out to fans helped Odom more than distract him. The Celtics might want to re-think their strategy on that one.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who were huge in Game 2, were important pieces again in Game 3 just for being built the way they were built — tall. Again, the Lakers’ length was cumbersome for the Celtics to play against. Together, Bynum and Gasol scored 22 points, grabbed 20 rebounds (13 defensive), blocked three shots (one a running block by Pau against a Ray Allen three), committed just two turnovers and had a combined four personal fouls. Bynum didn’t get his first foul until four minutes into the third quarter. To say that having both Bynum and Gasol on the floor is a plus for the Lakers is an understatement. Their mere presence, especially on the defensive end, is strength, not to mention a luxury.
It is this defense, Lamar Odom cited in a post-game interview, that was and is the key to the Lakers’ title hopes. The neutralization of main scorers and playmakers like Paul Pierce (15 points on 5-12, five fouls) by Ron Artest, Rajon Rondo (11 points, eight assists, four fouls) by Kobe Bryant, and Ray Allen (2 points, 0-13) by Derek Fisher was crucial in the Game 3 victory, and will continue to be so. By taking three players away, the Celtics had Garnett and Davis carrying the offensive load tonight for the Celtics and it certainly wasn’t enough.
Not having one of his most efficient evenings (shooting-wise), Kobe Bryant still managed to score 29 points (though it took 29 shots to get there), collected seven rebounds, handed out four assists, had a game-leading three blocks and two steals. The Celtics gravitated towards Bryant quickly and often in the second half, leading to many bad Laker possessions that cut that 12-point lead at half-time to one. The Celtics had certainly done their job on Bryant, but let Derek Fisher loose.
Having scored just five points in the first half, Derek Fisher single-handedly took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 of his 16 points by being exactly who the Lakers need in the exact time they need him. He floated shots over defenders, drove to basket, hit quick jumpers and then his grand finale — rebounding the last of Ray Allen’s prayers, running full-court and laying up two points against the outstretched arms and bodies of Kevin Garnett, Big Baby Davis and Ray Allen… AND ONE. The free throw gave the Lakers a 7-point lead that the Celtics would never take back.
After the game, Doris Burke asked Derek Fisher about the shots he made in the final quarter. An emotional Fisher answered, “Just faith. We work hard in this game. Sometimes things don’t go your way, but you just [have to] keep working hard, keep believing in yourself and in your team.”
“I love this game,” Fisher continued. “I love this team. I love this guy (looking at Kobe). I love what I do, and nothing means more to me than helping my team win.”
Asked about his relationship with Fisher, Bryant had nothing but praise, “He’s our vocal leader. He’s the guy that pulls everybody together, always giving positive reinforcement. He has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time. For me personally, I don’t have as much responsibility as I had when he wasn’t here. He’s the heart and soul of this team. He’s really the only one I listen to. We’ve been through it.”
And they’re going through it now… again and are, hopefully, on their way to another championship… together.
Pre-Game Thoughts: Officials Danny Crawford, Bennett Salvatore and Bill Kennedy, the pace of this game is up to you. We need a game today, not a free throw contest.
Half-Time Thoughts: 52-40, Lakers started out slow but have bucked up with help from the bench. Outscoring the Celtics bench 16-8, 7-9
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: No one in particular played a thoughtless game, but the Lakers not running their offense, waiting until the shot clock had almost run out to do something with the ball is what caused that 17 point lead to drain out.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Derek Fisher…just for being Derek Fisher in the playoffs. No offense to Pau, but DFish and Kobe are the real dynamic duo on this team.