Think back to May 13, 2004. Where were you when Derek Fisher made one of the most improbable shots and iconically ran off the court and onto the plane out of San Antonio?
The 2004 Lakers lineup was stacked. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Four Hall of Famers with legendary nicknames: The Black Mamba, The Big Diesel, The Glove and The Mailman. But it was Derek Fisher who became the hero on that night 11 years ago. That day Fisher's name became synonymous with 0.4.
The Western conference semi-final match-up between the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers was seething with tension and championship implications. These two teams had met in the semi-finals the year before, and San Antonio went on to win the 2003 championship. Coming into the series the Spurs had a 17-game win streak until the Lakers ended it in game 3 after being down in the series 2-0. The Lakers won games 3 and 4 by a combined 32 points. In game 5, in San Antonio, the Lakers had given up a 16-point lead heading into the 4th quarter.
The box score tells the story more efficiently than words. Fourth quarter scoring: 20 points from the Spurs, and just 12 from the Lakers. Lakers down, 70-71, with under 30 seconds remaining. Kobe scores, putting the Lakers up one with 11.9 left in the game. Duncan comes back and hits his miracle shot, putting San Antonio back on top by one point with just 0.4 left.
It's fitting how Tim Duncan effortlessly drains the "game winner" from 18 feet, over Shaq. That shot, in its own right, should have been one of the biggest moments in Spurs history. That narrative of the game would have made sense, with Duncan scoring 21, Kobe scoring 22 in a tough low-scoring playoff game. But what happened next was remarkable.
Watching that all the way through gives me goosebumps every time. Yes, I know the video quality is almost unbearable, but the ESPN Classic music is phenomenal and captures the moment perfectly. Ahhh! I wish we still had Al Michaels calling basketball games.
Here's the succinct version:
We know the rest of the story: Lakers go on to win the series, then win the Western Conference Finals against Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves. And then they got upset by the Detroit Pistons in five games. I just don't know how a team with this kind of promo picture could lose a single game all season...
Derek Fisher went on to play with the Warriors and the Jazz for a couple years before returning to Los Angeles in 2007 and continuing his legacy of hitting big shots. Here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!
BONUS: Pause that last clip at :22 to enjoy Fish's grin... Legendary.