MAGIC IN ORLANDO
After falling short of their championship goal to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, Derek and the Lakers entered the 2008-2009 season with a heightened sense of determination.
The result was an often-times dominant 65-win run through the regular season, tying them for the second most single season wins in franchise history.
In the playoffs, LA stood up to every challenge. They came from behind to defeat the Houston Rockets in seven games to book a return ticket to the Western Conference Finals. Then LA defeated the Denver Nuggets in six to advance back to the NBA Finals where they squared off against the Orlando Magic.
Throughout the 2009 Playoffs, D-Fish was rolling along, but had yet to make the mark on the postseason that he had in the past. That all changed during Game 4 of The Finals. When it mattered most, Derek stepped up to push the Lakers to a series-turning win.
The Lakers found themselves down by three points in Game 4 with 10.8 seconds remaining in regulation. After the inbound pass made its way to him, Derek quickly dribbled the ball up court, stood at the wing, lulling his defender to sleep, and pulled up for three. The shot hit the bottom of the net with just 4.6 seconds remaining to force the game into overtime.
In the overtime period, Los Angeles and Orlando were once again knotted at 91 with less than a minute remaining. Kobe Bryant posted up on the block and when Derek’s defender went to double team Kobe, D-Fish was left wide open. So Bryant dished out to Fish at the top of the arc for another clutch three-point shot. With 31.3 seconds to go, the triple dropped and the Lakers were on their way to victory.
After burying the second three over Orlando, clinching a Game 4 win, Derek pedaled backward down the court with a hand in the air, trying to calm himself. Then a smile crept across his face. He knew how close the Lakers were to his dream. Derek said the shot felt better than his legendary triple with 0.4 seconds left against the Spurs in 2004.
“[The shot was] even greater than 0.4,” Fisher said, referring to his shot that beat San Antonio in the 2004 Western semifinals. “I feel like we’re as close as possible to what our end goal is. We know we still have work to do.”
Derek’s two clutch threes propelled the Lakers to a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Lakers went on to win the series two nights later with Derek’s Game 4 heroics as a catalyst. His teammates would later note that his leadership and confidence in pivotal moments cannot be replicated.
“He’s been there before,” Kobe Bryant said. “He’s been there, done that. That’s Derek. He just has supreme confidence. I think those shots at the end of the game are actually easier for him.”
“He’s amazing,” Lamar Odom said of D-Fish. “He means everything to us.”