Lakers 91, Celtics 84: Mea Culpa, Derek Fisher. Mea Culpa

BOSTON - JUNE 08: Derek Fisher #2 and Sasha Vujacic #18 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the 2010 NBA Finals on June 8, 2010 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Derek Fisher is a proud man.  He's not the sinful kind of proud, the type who allows his pride to hinder his judgment, or cause him to act as if he's better than someone else.  His pride is commendable, the result of a man who reflects upon his life, and likes what he sees.  And he should be proud.  He's been a member of 4 championship squads, he's hit some of the biggest shots in playoff history, and he is one of the most charismatic players, one of the strongest leaders, in the NBA.

That pride, that indomitable belief of self, is what allowed Fisher to persevere through a difficult regular season, one that saw him become the punching bag of 90% of Lakerdom, myself included.  His pride made him bristle at the suggestion that he could no longer compete at this level.  And it was his pride that turned to anger when confronted by Paul Pierce's bravado in proclaiming this series "ain't coming back to LA."  Paul Pierce is also a proud man, but his pride is the kind spoken of in the verses of the Bible.  In that context, pride is considered one of the seven deadly sins, which makes sense, because Paul Pierce's pride made Derek Fisher deadly.

In a game that, in every imaginable way, was the yin to Game 2's yang, Fisher's 4th quarter will go down in history as one of the gutsiest performances from one of the gutsiest players in the game.  In a game in which the defense, on both sides, was incredible, a game in which every other player, on both sides, was either shying away from the moment, or failing to deliver, Fish carried the Lakers to victory, 91-84.  Filling the role normally occupied by Kobe Bryant, Fish was 5-7 with 11 of the Lakers 24 points in the final frame.  5-7, on some ridiculously tough shots: The 10 footer with Ray Allen draped all over him, the 12 foot bank shot with Rondo grabbing his arm (no call) on the way up, and the exclamation point, a driving layup in which Fisher gave up his body as he was fouled by 3 different Celtics as a mass of green, purple and intangibles went flying into the court-side photographers.  6 point lead (7 with the FT), less than a minute to go.  Ball game.  Fish didn't just close the refrigerator, he bought the groceries and filled the sucker up, too.  While still finding time to make the Jello.

As dynamic as Fisher's performance was, there's a whole ball game to break down, which is exactly what happened to offense in this game.  It broke down.  The defense in this game was simply spectacular.  After the Celtics allowed the Lakers 52 points in the 1st half, they put together a 2nd half defensive performance of 2008 vintage.  They were everywhere.  The Lakers completely failed to run their offense properly, but credit is due to the Celtics.  They forced L.A. into horrible possessions, and L.A. complied by falling into the all too familiar pattern of waiting for Kobe Bryant to play the role of savior.  The only problem is that Kobe hasn't exorcised his Boston demons.  He was repeatedly forced into tough shots, and unlike in previous series, he could not deliver the goods. 

But, while the Lakers offense ground to a halt in the 2nd half, the Celtics could not fully take advantage.  Therein lies the main difference between 2008 and 2010; the Celtics can still play some of the best defense you will ever see, but the Lakers can stand up to them, toe to defensive toe.  For every possession in which the Lakers couldn't find a decent shot with a map, they responded with a possession in which the Celtics couldn't see the basket amongst a forest of Laker trees.  Every time Kobe was forced to take a bad shot, Ray Allen was forced to rush a good one.

No one epitomizes the transition from Game 2 to Game 3 better than Ray Ray.  In Game 2, he threw down one of the legendary performances in NBA Finals history:  8-11 from 3 pt range, with 7 3's and 27 points in the 1st half alone.  In Game 3?  0-8 from 3 pt range, 0-13 total, and 2 points on a couple free throws.  This time, it wasn't foul trouble that did not allow him to establish a rhythm.  It was a concerted effort on the part of the Lakers that turned his clean looks into contested shots.  Allen was blocked on close outs at least twice, and his being shut down is the clearest example of fine defending on the part of the Lakers.

He wasn't the only member of the "ineffective Celtics" club.  He was joined, for most of the game at least, by Paul Pierce.  Pierce followed up his brazen proclamation that the Celtics would not leave Boston this season by playing a terrible 1st half.  Unlike Allen, who the Lakers were obviously keying on, Pierce wasn't a focus of the defense.  He just shut himself down.  He hit a couple 3's in the 2nd half to make his box look respectable, but Pierce completely failed to back up his own smack talk, and now the only way his prediction becomes a reality is with a Lakers championship.

And then there's Kevin Garnett.  I take back what I said about Ray Allen, KG epitomizes the difference between Game 2 and Game 3 as much as anybody.  While the rest of his team was fading in the limelight, KG partied like the MVP candidate he used to be.  He looked unstoppable on the offensive end, outplayed Pau Gasol on both ends, and carried the Celtics much further than anybody could have possibly expected.  He just didn't have much help.

On the Lakers end, Kobe Bryant had one of those games which causes some people to not like him so much.  29 points, but it took him 29 shots to get there, and many of those looks were not what you would call quality, even for him.  I lost track of when Kobe was chucking of his own free will, and when he was chucking because his teammates were deferring to his chucks, but the latter did not precede the former.  However, he did do many wonderful things to influence the outcome in a positive manner outside of his shot selection.  His hustle made many big plays for the Lakers, his 2 steals and 3 blocks were pivotal,  and though he didn't play his usual role down the stretch, his presence in the 1-2 pick and roll the Lakers ran predominantly down the stretch gave Derek Fisher the space to play hero.

There are a few other storylines (like an instant replay rule that MUST be revamped, since it led to one of the most outrageous "correct" calls in the history of sports), but tonight belongs to Fish.  Mea culpa, Fish.  My bad.  I promise never to doubt you again.  Until I am given full and final proof, in the form of a Lakers team losing a series in the playoffs on account of your play, I will never criticize you on a macro scale again.  You've earned a permanent refrain from disparaging remarks, at least in this space.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

L.A.

82

11

0.32

88

0.20

52

13

46

53

26

79

1.11

Bos.

83

12

0.33

67

0.25

51

22

47

50

21

74

1.01

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