Say the name “Derek Fisher,” and Los Angeles Lakers fans will think of a five-time champion responsible for one of the most famous game-winners in franchise history. But say the name “Derek Fisher” to San Antonio Spurs fans, and you might suddenly find yourself in trouble.
Fisher’s game-winner with 0.4 seconds left in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals was a defining moment in the Spurs-Lakers rivalry. The shot not only won LA the game, but it was also pivotal to the Lakers advancing past the defending champion Spurs. But the 18-year veteran revealed details about the shot that will only make Spurs fans resent the Purple and Gold even more.
Derek Fisher’s 0.4 shot helped the Lakers prevail over the Spurs
In 2003, LA’s quest for a four-peat ended when San Antonio took down the defending champs in the West semis. The Spurs would then go on to win the NBA title — their second in five years. Naturally, it was fitting that the two juggernauts met a year later in the same round.
Although they were the lower seed, the Spurs held home-court advantage thanks to a one-win advantage in the standings. San Antonio won both of its home games by 10 points, but LA evened up the series after a pair of comfortable wins on its home court. That led to a crucial Game 5 in San Antonio with the series knotted at two games each.
Down by one point with just over five seconds to go, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan hit a miraculous 18-foot fadeaway over the seven-foot Shaquille O’Neal. The shot gave the Spurs a 73-72 lead with 0.4 seconds to go. On the inbound, Gary Payton didn’t pass to O’Neal or Kobe Bryant but instead found the 6-foot-1 Fisher. The guard caught the ball, turned around, and released the 16-footer before the clock hit zero, winning the game for the Lakers 74-73.
“I don’t even want to look at the tape of that last play,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said to the LA Times after the game. “I really thought we had the game. We came back and Timmy [Duncan] made that awesome shot. I thought we won the game. I didn’t think Fisher had time to catch the ball, turn around, and shoot it. We have to let this game go.”
Fisher reveals that his famous shot maybe shouldn’t have counted
Parker wasn’t the only person who questioned whether Fisher was able to pull off the miraculous shot in time. Less than an hour after the game, the Spurs filed an official protest to the league office. According to the LA Times, general manager R.C. Buford was heard yelling from the video room, saying the clock had started late.
In an appearance on FS1’s Undisputed with Skip and Shannon, Fisher re-lived his heroic shot.
“It wasn’t until I saw a still photo after the fact that I knew [Manu] Ginobili was in my face like that,” Fisher told hosts Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe. “My eyes were only on the rim. … I thought it (the shot) was long. I knew it was right on line, but because I was fading back, I guess instinctively I put an extra touch on it. But I thought I shot that ball way too hard.”
That wasn’t all he admitted. D-Fish then confirmed that Buford, Parker, and the rest of the Spurs might have been correct about his shot after all (h/t FS1).
“I think being a lefty, the clock operator is behind [me]. So the clock operator has to wait a split second to make sure that I’ve actually caught the ball. So to your credit, Skip, maybe it was 0.5 [seconds]. You got to give 0.1 seconds to the clock operator.”Derek Fisher
The split-second difference is all it took for the Lakers to win, eliminate the Spurs in Game 6, and advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth time in five years. But had the clock operator been on time, it very well could have a series victory for the Spurs and another championship in the Alamo.
Fisher’s shot is another chapter in the rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs
Fisher admitting his shot maybe shouldn’t have counted won’t make Spurs fans forget anytime soon. Truth is, the 0.4 shot is one of several reasons why the Spurs and Lakers have such an unforgettable rivalry.
From 1999 through 2010, the Spurs and Lakers represented the Western Conference in the Finals 11 out of a possible 12 times. They have gone head-to-head in 56 playoff games, 30 of them coming in those 12 years. LA holds the overall 34-22 lead in the postseason, but removing the four lopsided series from the 1980s, the score is 20-20.
The rivalry truly began in 1999, when San Antonio swept LA en route to a title. Following the season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson claimed the Spurs’ title should carry an asterisk since the lockout-shortened season was only 50 games. LA then breezed through its rivals in 2001 and 2002 before San Antonio crushed the four-peat hopes in 2003. After the Fisher series, the two teams faced off two more times: a five-game Lakers victory in 2008 and a first-round Spurs sweep in 2013.
From Jackson’s asterisk comment to Robert Horry leaving LA for San Antonio to all the Kobe/Shaq vs. Duncan/Parker/Ginobili battles, there is still no moment in the rivalry that tops Fisher’s shot. However, as the retired point guard admitted, it could have easily broken another way.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.