Derek Fisher, thanks in large part to early foul trouble, was pretty much a non-factor for the first three-plus quarters of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday afternoon at EnergySolutions Arena. Then the Los Angeles Lakers' point guard came up huge down the stretch in the fourth quarter as his team rallied to force his old team into overtime.
Alas, it wasn't quite enough for the Lakers, as the Utah Jazz evened the series with a 123-115 victory.
"It was a good effort, and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game," said Fisher. "On the road, sometimes that's all you can ask for."
The Jazz led by 12 points with less than four minutes to play when Fisher caught fire. He made a 3-pointer to cut the gap to nine with 3:59 to play. After a Carlos Boozer bucket for the Jazz, Fisher made another trey, and the Lakers trailed by eight with 3:25 left. Fisher then stole the ball from Boozer and followed it up by making a free throw after a Mehmet Okur technical foul with 2:54 remaining. By the time Fisher had completed a four-point trip down the floor with his third consecutive 3-pointer, Los Angeles trailed by just four points with 2:42 to play. He had scored 10 points in 1:17 in just three offensive possessions — and he had a steal to boot.
Fisher wasn't done, either. After the Lakers knotted the score 108-108 with 4.6 seconds left, Utah had one last chance to win the game in regulation. Instead, Fisher made the Lakers' defensive play of the game by blocking Deron Williams' shot at the buzzer.
But the Lakers ran out of steam in the overtime. Utah had opened up a seven-point lead by the time Fisher fouled out of the game with 15 points and 28.5 seconds remaining in the extra period.
"We seemed to be poised down the stretch (in regulation)," said Fisher. "But in the overtime we kind of, well, not really fell apart, but didn't keep up that same focus in terms of offensive execution."
Fisher, for the second-straight game, got into first-half foul trouble on the court where he helped the Jazz to the Western Conference finals a year ago. He picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter on Sunday, was forced to the bench and then added another quick foul in the second quarter.
"It bothered us both games," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson of Fisher's foul trouble.
Fisher played less than four minutes in the opening half without scoring a point, dishing out an assist or getting any other positive statistic.
"You can't change in terms of playing aggressive and being physical out on the floor," said Fisher. "But I definitely don't want to continue to put myself in the position where I'm impacting the team early in the game by having to go to the bench with nine-plus minutes to go in the first quarter."
The Jazz shot 45 free throws on Sunday, compared to only 25 for the Lakers. Fisher wasn't about to blame the officials for the loss, however, even pointing out that the Lakers enjoyed similarly lopsided free throw totals in the first two games of the series at the Staples Center.
"Sometimes that happens on the road," said Fisher of the free-throw disparity. "You get a step behind. The home team is playing a step faster with more energy and you start playing defense with your hands as opposed to your feet. That's an adjustment we're going to have to make going back home (for Game 5 on Wednesday)."
After once holding a 2-0 lead, the Lakers now know they are in for a dogfight in what is now, essentially, a best-of-3 series.
"We need to continue to focus on the things we can control," said Fisher. "We can control missing 11 free throws. We can control our half-court execution down the stretch when we need baskets. We have to be able to get the ball into the hands of the player we want to have the ball (Kobe Bryant), and then also provide the spacing and the movement around him so that he has a great opportunity or someone else on the team can have a great opportunity."
If the Lakers do that, Fisher likes his team's chances.