Derek Fisher is one step closer to a chance at his sixth championship ring.
Derek and the Thunder closed out the Lakers with a 106-90 win in Game 5 (Getty Images)
The OKC Thunder made sure of that on Monday night, finishing off the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals to advance. They will meet the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals beginning on Sunday night in San Antonio.
"I’m really happy for our guys," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "They did a good job of really focusing in and locking in on the defensive end. I thought we won this series on the defensive end of the floor. We can play different ways and different styles of basketball.
"But the fact of the matter is, if we don’t play defense, it doesn’t matter how well we do offensive; we’re not going to be successful. Our guys did a great job of really competing and making it a possession-by-possession game."
Defense created offense all night for the Thunder, leading to 30 fast break points against LA. Derek had a hand in several of those opportunities, with outlet passes from the other end of the floor. He finished with four points of his own to go along with two rebounds and an assist.
Derek entered the game with 3:18 left in the first quarter and the Thunder holding a five-point lead. He added to that lead with 33 seconds left, when a Nick Collison rebound led to an outlet to Fish, who drew a foul on his way to the bucket. Derek’s two free throws put OKC up 25-19 and they took a 26-21 lead into the second quarter.
The Lakers began to trim at the lead in the second. Fish temporarily stopped the bleeding with his lone assist, finding Nazr Mohammed for a dunk to stretch the Thunder lead back to four, but LA scored the next seven points to grab a three-point lead. The quick burst by the Lakers forced Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks to bring back starters Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins. D-Fish remained in and helped OKC stabilize their effort.
Derek's lone field goal helped the Thunder stabilize their lead (Getty Images)
The group created two quick turnovers and took back the lead on buckets by Westbrook and Durant. After a James Harden dunk, Fish grabbed a rebound and passed ahead to Durant who drew a foul and sank both tries at the line to put OKC up five. A pair of Lakers free throws pushed the Thunder lead to one-possession, D-Fish drained, but Derek answered with a 22-foot jumper to push it back to five.
He exited shortly thereafter and the Lakers briefly took the lead, but OKC fired right back and at halftime they held a three-point edge. The teams traded barbs across a third quarter that saw four ties and eight lead changes, but it was a last hurrah for LA. By the time Derek came back in with 1:29 left in the third, the Thunder held a six-point lead. They followed by opening the fourth on a 10-0 run thanks to a Harden jumper, two Durant treys and a Westbrook layup. Derek chipped in a rebound during OKC’s big fourth and checked out with 7:30 to go as they cruised to the win.
"That was a tough team," Westbrook said of the Lakers. "They were not laying down. We had to come together as better teammates and we did that tonight. From the middle of the third quarter till the end of the game, we all did our jobs."
Derek said there was no holding back when it comes to competing for a title (Getty Images).
The series victory by the Thunder eliminates Derek’s former team the Lakers and his good friend Kobe Bryant, but D-Fish believes there will be no hard feelings.
"As much history as we have, there’s no holding back in terms of trying to advance to win the championship," Fisher said. "Personal friends or brothers or however close you are to somebody, it’s about winning. He knows that better than anybody. I learned that and accomplished that right alongside with him, and so we feel the same way."
KD AND KB
The Thunder and Lakers series pitted the league’s top two scorers against one another.
While Kobe Bryant, — the No. 2 scorer this season — has the more polished resume, Durant, who won his third consecutive scoring title this season, is fast becoming one of the league’s biggest stars. Fish, who has now played with both men, can see the similarities.
"I watched Kobe for years work to become one of the greatest of all-time," Derek told Sports Illustrated. "I think Kevin has the same love and passion for playing basketball. The process is happening, for sure. You can see he is understanding more of what it takes to be the leader of the team."
D-Fish said he believes Durant has gained a better grasp of the little things and how important it is to be a great player all around, not just a scorer. He’s observed the 23-year-old Durant making an effort to be a better defensive player and working hard every day to complete his game.
"He wants to get better," Derek said. "He wants to improve. He is on his way."
Fish believes that work ethic comes from a desire to be the best, the same desire he saw in Bryant when the two entered the league together with the Lakers back in 1996.
"There are similarities in terms of that internal fire," Fisher said. "Kevin is not as demonstrative [as Kobe] in terms of his actions, but on the inside, he wants to be one of the greats."
Derek and the Thunder open up the Western Conference Finals on Sunday night in San Antonio against the Spurs. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CDT on TNT.