The NBA playoffs already have become more compelling than ever, at this early stage of the proceedings.
Even without the Jazz being involved — and let’s face it, they would be done by now, even if they had chosen to participate — I’m immersed in this postseason’s nightly drama. The NBA is delivering comebacks, meltdowns, clutch performances, major failures and great competition in all four conference semifinal series.
The Oklahoma City-Memphis series intrigues me most of all, thanks to Russell Westbrook’s absence. His knee injury was unfortunate, but watching the Thunder play without him is fascinating. Kevin Durant is being forced to do even more than usual, basically taking every big shot, and point guards Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher are being asked to replace Westbrook.
Maybe I’m more obsessed with Fisher’s career than other Jazz followers, but man, he sure makes the playoffs more interesting to me every year. I generally take my cue in these matters from former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who once wrote of Karl Malone, “The basketball gods sometimes can be most cruel.”
That was after the 2004 season, when the Mailman’s pursuit of an NBA championship with the Lakers after leaving the Jazz was short-circuited by a collision with Fisher, his teammate, during the clinching victory of the Western Conference finals. Malone was hobbled in the NBA Finals against Detroit and the Lakers lost in five games.
As for Fisher, I’ve been consistent in approving his reasons for leaving the Jazz and in criticizing his method of moving from Dallas to Oklahoma City — with some degree of deferring to Jackson’s basketball gods, allowing them to rule.
Having gone to Los Angeles after his one season with the Jazz, being released from his contract after citing the medical needs of his daughter, Fisher was denied a championship in 2008 when the Lakers lost to Boston in the Finals.
But then they beat Orlando and Boston the next two years — while repeatedly eliminating the Jazz in the playoffs — to give him five career titles. Now, in case anyone needs reminding, he’s wearing jersey No. 6 with the Thunder, signifying his chase of another championship.
If you could imagine, there’s even more bitterness in Dallas about how Fisher asked to be released by the Mavericks in December and ended up back in Oklahoma City than there is in Utah regarding how he went from the Jazz to the Lakers.
Your thoughts, basketball gods?
Memphis 99, Oklahoma City 93.
In Game 1, when Fisher hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and made a steal that led to Durant’s go-ahead basket, I’m thinking, wow, it’s happening again for him. But in Tuesday’s Game 2, when Fisher was the Thunder’s No. 2 scorer with 19 points, Memphis guard Mike Conley was the story of the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma City held a one-point lead late in the game when Fisher stole Conley’s pass, but he missed a 13-footer. Conley then drilled a 3-pointer that sent the Grizzlies ahead for good. Durant, who scored 36 points, missed his last three shots.
The series resumes Saturday in Memphis. Meanwhile, Thursday is the six-year anniversary of the Jazz’s most memorable playoff game of this century. Fisher arrived in the third quarter from his daughter’s medical procedure in New York and eventually helped the Jazz beat Golden State with his only shot, an important 3-pointer in overtime.
That moment remain indelible, and Fisher has been involved in more meaningful victories since then — enough to last his lifetime, I’d say. So, Memphis in six. We’ll see if the basketball gods agree.