Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Fisher & Bryant: Playoff opponents for the first time
By Dave McMenamin
It was like any of the thousands of practices in which Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant had gone up against each other since entering the league as rookies with the Lakers in 1996.
But this time, there were 18,203 mostly blue-shirted fans in the stands, Fisher was wearing his Oklahoma City home white uniform and Bryant his purple Lakers road jersey, and the spirit of competition was dampened by the fact Fisher's Thunder were already up by 30 when he matched up with Bryant on defense and got him to miss a turnaround jumper on the baseline.
"It was interesting," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Tuesday. "I was a little worried for Derek. But (Kobe) did miss the shot."
It wasn't the first time Bryant and Fisher have been opponents. There were those years when Fisher played for Utah and Golden State before coming back to L.A. for rings No. 4 and No. 5. It wasn't even the first time this season they've played each other, as the Lakers and Thunder had two games in the regular season since Fisher was traded from the Lakers in March.
It was the first playoff game, however. Now, Fisher and Bryant find themselves pitted against one another in individual quests for a sixth championship, rather than going for it together.
Because of it, the two, who Bryant says have kept up near-daily communication since Fisher was dealt two months ago, have decided to cut each other out for the duration of the series.
"Up until about three days ago (we were talking)," Fisher said with a laugh on Tuesday. "He was wishing me well in the first round. I was wishing him well in the first round, and my last message to him was to have a great Game 7 before they played the Nuggets. Since then we’ve just kind of gone to our respective corners. I think it’s necessary just because of our personal history and what we’ve accomplished together. In order to do what we need to do on the court for our teams, we kind of have to go into that space, but at some point we’ll reconnect and be what we always will be and that’s brothers."
Fisher finished with five points, two assists, two steals, zero turnovers and a blocked shot in Game 1, going 2-for-8 from the floor. He outproduced the Lakers' two point guards, Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, by himself. Sessions had two points on 1-for-7 shooting to go with three assists and one turnover. Blake had zero points on 0-for-1 shooting along with four assists and two turnovers.
Both jump shots Fisher made came in the fourth quarter, right in front of the Lakers' bench. Fisher's 3 with 19.3 seconds left was the last bucket of the night in the Thunder's 119-90 romp, and he couldn't help but glance over to his former teammates after the ball went through the hoop.
"It was just one of those in-the-moment types of things," Fisher said. "Just putting kind of a period to the ending of (Monday's) game and just feeling good about the way we played as a team and some of the things I was able to do. No deeper meaning beyond that. I don’t even recall smiling as much. I do remember looking over. I remember looking over towards the guys at TNT and to the crowd a little bit, but I definitely wasn’t trying to send any messages or show them up or anything. That’s not really my style, but it definitely felt good just to end the game the way we did."
Bryant had no problem with it.
"It wasn’t like he was swagging or anything like that," Bryant said. "It’s OK to feel the moment. I would feel the moment too if I was up by 40."
Those moments used to come from Fisher when L.A. was winning, from his 0.4-second shot against the Spurs to his two 3s against the Magic to his and-1 layup against the Celtics, the Lakers knew they were departing with someone special when he was dealt out of town.
"I said it when the trade happened, you’re going to miss him," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "You’re going to miss his leadership. You’re going to miss his toughness. You’re going to miss his ability to knock down big shots in big games."
Brooks relishes the opportunity to coach Fisher every day.
"He’s done a great job of really buying into what we do and our guys do a great job of embracing him right from the day that he came into our gym," Brooks said. "They love him. They love what he’s about. They see his work every day. He’s a worker. The guy, I’m very impressed at the passion he still has for the game. He’s played a lot of big games, a lot of great years -- he’s been in the league for 16 years -- and he looks at himself as he’s just starting in the league and he wants to keep getting better. I don’t think he realizes he’s not going to get much better, he’s what he is, but he still comes out every day to improve. It’s refreshing."
Even though Bryant isn't staying social with Fisher throughout the series, he'd love the chance to have Fisher play defense against him again.
"I should have hit him a little harder," Bryant said. "I didn’t know the ref was going to let us get away with bodying like that. ... I’ll hit him good (in Game 2)."
Added Bryant: "Derek can’t guard me, man. He was calling for help."
Those will be the only calls Fisher makes to Bryant until the series is over.