By JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer
Derek Fisher broke down the court after yet another miss by Ray Allen, with nothing between him and the basket. And nothing—not even three hard-charging Celtics—was going to keep the Los Angeles Lakers guard from finishing off a Game 3 victory.
A hard foul from all three pursuing Celtics sent Fisher sprawling to the floor, but not before he laid in his fifth basket of the fourth quarter and converted the three-point play to help the Lakers beat Boston 91-84 and take a 2-1 lead in the NBA finals.
“Truthfully, he’s done it over and over and over again,” said Kobe Bryant, who scored 29 points. “So it’s almost his responsibility to our team to do these things.”
Bryant had 25 points after three quarters, but he did not score for the first 10 minutes of the fourth. That’s when Fisher took over, hitting four of five Lakers baskets after Boston cut a 17-point first-half lead down to one point to reclaim the home-court advantage they lost when the Celtics won Game 2 in L.A.
Game 4 is Thursday night in Boston, and a Lakers victory would put them within one win of avenging the loss to their longtime rivals in the 2008 finals — not to mention the eight other times the Celtics have won an NBA title at the Lakers’ expense.
“Our thoughts are really just still on how disappointed we are, or were, losing that second game on our home court. I think that had more of our attention and focus than what happened in ’08,” Fisher said. “We didn’t doubt our ability to win here. … We understand when you want to be the best, you have to win wherever, whenever.”
Fisher finished with 16 points, and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had 10 rebounds apiece for Los Angeles.
Kevin Garnett, who had just six points in Boston’s victory Sunday, had 25 in Game 3. But Allen, who had 32 points in Game 2, missed all 13 field goal attempts—one shy of the NBA finals futility record—many of them while Fisher was guarding him.
“It’s a hell of a swing, I’ll tell you that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s basketball. That’s why you can’t worry about it. He’ll be back in the gym tomorrow and getting ready for the next game. … It happens to the best of us.”
The Celtics had high hopes after splitting the opening two games in Los Angeles, but the “Beat L.A.!” chants at the TD Garden couldn’t help them overcome poor shooting.
And it couldn’t stop Fisher.
“Derek Fisher was the difference in the game,” Rivers said. “He’s just a gutty, gritty player and he gutted the game out for them. I thought Kobe was struggling a little bit, and Fisher—he basically took the game over. … I don’t know what he had in the fourth quarter … but most of them were down the stretch.”
Fisher, 34, came into the league with Bryant in 1996 and has a history of clutch shots, from the heave with 0.4 seconds left to beat San Antonio in the 2004 playoffs to the late jumpers in a series-swinging victory over Orlando in Game 4 of last year’s finals. The Lakers went on to beat the Magic in five games, earning their 15th NBA title—second only to Boston’s 17.
“I think as you grow in this game and you put in the work that’s required to still be around 14 years later, you start to recognize that being in this moment, on this stage, it’s not a given. It’s not something that happens every season,” Fisher said. “Five or 10 years from now, when I’m long gone, I would have hated to feel like I didn’t just do everything I could have to help my team. Things have worked out well, and we have two more wins to get to really put a nice cap on it.”
The Lakers opened a 37-20 first-half lead, but Boston cut the deficit to four late in the third quarter and then made it 68-67 early in the fourth on consecutive drives by Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Rajon Rondo. With a chance to take the lead, Allen was called for an offensive foul away from the ball.
Fisher then scored four of the Lakers’ next five baskets to give them a five-point lead with about 4 1/2 minutes left. He scored another with 49 seconds left before being flattened by Davis, among others, and adding the free throw to make it a three-possession game.
“He saw the opening and went and made a very bold play. … It was imperative that it goes in for us to win,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “When he’s got an opportunity to hit a key shot, it seems like he’s always there and ready.”
Allen and Paul Pierce combined to go 1 for 13 from the field as Boston went nearly 6 minutes without a field goal in the first half. Pierce finished with 15 points, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range, but Allen never snapped out of it.
He missed all eight 3-pointers, all five 2-pointers and got to the line just twice. He was spared of matching the worst shooting performance in NBA finals history when Garnett was called for an offensive foul away from the ball in the final minute while Allen clanged another shot off the rim.
“We obviously didn’t expect him to go 0 for 13, but it’s a tough gig for him to run around offensively the way he has to and then have to guard Kobe on the other end,” Fisher said. “I mean, that takes anybody’s legs out. It takes my legs out chasing him. So there are going to be nights maybe when his legs aren’t there because he’s having to work so hard on both ends, but we won’t see 0 for 13 on Thursday night, that’s for sure.”
Garnett matched his Game 2 total of six points in the first 75 seconds of Game 3, and Rondo had Boston’s next three baskets to give Boston a 12-5 lead. But the Lakers ran off eight straight points to go ahead, scoring 32 of the next 40 points to open a 37-20 lead with 9:10 left in the half.
Rondo, who had a triple-double in Game 3, finished with 11 points, eight assists and three rebounds.