Most of the basketball-watching world wonders when the heck Derek Fisher is going to retire, mostly because he is 37 years old and has five NBA championship rings. He has nothing left to prove on the court.
The San Antonio Spurs probably wonder the same, but for a very different reason. On the day Fisher finally calls it quits, possibly with a dedicated “Derek Fisher Day” at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich may send him the biggest bouquet of all, because it will mean Fisher is finally through tormenting them.
The Spurs’ 101-98 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals did not hide the fact that Fisher, now wearing an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey, continues to be more than a minor annoyance for the San Antonio franchise. Fisher scored 13 points, hitting his first six shots, to help the Thunder stay close until the Spurs ran away with a 39-point fourth quarter.
The phrase “0.4 seconds” is taboo in San Antonio, and legend has it that clocks in the city wait an extra beat on 0.5 before jumping straight to 0.3. But it was nearly impossible to watch Fisher’s shooting display on Sunday and not think of the defining shot of his career.
The Lakers and Spurs were tied at 2-2 in the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals when Duncan drained an off-balance, falling push-shot from 18 feet away to give San Antonio a one-point lead. The time on the clock was 0.4 seconds. Some guy named Doc Rivers, who was doing TV analysis for ABC, repeated several times during the ensuing timeout that those tenths of a second were pivotal. The “Trent Tucker Rule” stipulates that an NBA player needs at least 0.3 seconds to take a jump shot, and a jump shot under duress — like a fall-away prayer by an Arkansas-Little Rock graduate with an Argentinean defender in his face, for instance — probably would take an extra tenth.
Rivers has not been heard from since, I don’t think, but at that point, Fisher was moments from assuring his playoff immortality. With the Spurs smartly dedicating two defenders to Kobe Bryant, Fisher dashed out of a tangle of bodies and in one motion caught the inbounds pass from Gary Payton, turned and hoisted an aimless shot over Ginobili’s outstretched arms. Fisher, knowing the span of time between him getting the shot off and the clock expiring was razor-thin at best, raised his hand and dashed straight off the court and into the locker room. If he could have chartered a jet to fly him out of Texas before the referees could review the shot, he probably would have.
The shot’s legitimacy is still challenged by some Spurs fans, just as Oakland Raiders fans still spit at the mention of the “tuck rule.” There might have been no team more disgusted than the Spurs when Fisher was traded in the middle of this season, bought out of his contract by the Rockets and quickly snapped up by the Thunder. The Spurs certainly realized they could meet the Thunder at some point in the playoffs and could not have looked forward to another opportunity to see Fisher’s face, or to create a reason to bring up that infamous shot again.
So with 5:20 left in Sunday’s game, Fisher gathered the ball outside the 3-point arc and lined up a shot. The Spurs, who had used a 15-3 run to take a three-point lead, all seemed to run at Fisher en masse. If Fisher had hit the shot and tied the game, few at the AT&T Center would have been surprised.
One shot planted dread in the mind of any Spurs supporter. No matter how firmly the Spurs take control of this series, the Spurs are unlikely to feel comfortable any time Fisher is on the floor.
View Fisher’s famous shot in the video below.
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