That's all Derek Fisher needed to demonstrate he still has plenty left in the tank and, quite possibly, just might be as good as advertised in playoff basketball.
In the Thunder's 102-99 victory over Dallas in Game 2, Fisher came off the bench and supplied a much-needed spark at all the right times. The 37-year-old point guard made 5 of 6 shots in 24 minutes, scored 11 points and was instrumental in helping the Thunder's second unit return the favor to the Mavs after their bench thoroughly outplayed OKC's reserves in Game 1.
“He's definitely going to be able to bring that game to game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of Fisher. “Some games he's going to make a bunch of shots, some games he's going to miss.”
We saw Monday how much better the Thunder can be when Fisher makes shots.
In the opening game of this series, Fisher went 0-for-3 in 15 minutes. With his shots not falling, the Thunder had few other scoring options. Fellow reserve guard Daequan Cook, the only other bench player to attempt a shot last Saturday, also missed all of his hoists. That left James Harden as the only reserve to score for the Thunder. As a result, OKC was outscored 39-19 in bench points in Game 1.
But thanks in large part to Fisher's contributions, the Thunder outscored the Mavs 32-28 in bench points Monday.
As the series shifts to Dallas for Games 3 and 4, the battle of the benches will now be as important as ever. The Thunder's reserves will have to replicate Game 2's effort, especially if Kevin Durant continues struggling with both his shot and Shawn Marion. But role players tend to play better at home, so it could be tough for the Thunder's reserves to reproduce two great nights inside American Airlines Center.
Dallas also has a more potent one-two punch in reserves Jason Terry and Vince Carter. The two combined for 33 points on 13-of-24 shooting in Game 1. Terry alone, with 20 points, outscored the entire Thunder bench. But in Game 2, the Thunder held them in check and limited the duo to 18 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
However, the Mavs ranked third in bench points in the regular season at 40.8 per game, while the Thunder ranked 17th at 31.5 per game.
“I think it can be pretty close,” Brooks said about the bench scoring in the rest of this series.
When the Thunder's bench got back to unselfish play Monday, the Mavs had no answer for its second unit.
OKC's reserves ended the first quarter on a 9-0 run to turn a 24-23 deficit into a 32-24 lead. Fisher's first big shot of the playoffs as a member of the Thunder came on a buzzer-beating jumper from the left corner. It came courtesy of a pass from Cook, one of four assists by three different players the bench used to make the run.
“It's always about spacing and ball movement and being able to step up and hit the shots,” Brooks said. “But we look at our bench as a unit that defends hard and gets a lot of good possessions on the defensive end for us.”
Fisher scored the Thunder's first six points of the second period on a series of jump shots to key a run that eventually ballooned to 19-3. It gave the Thunder a 16-point lead, its largest of the game.
“The energy was good, but we made shots,” Brooks said. “The ball was moving and that first half was really good basketball offensively. … We had 10 assists and they made shots. That's the bottom line.”
Brooks said the difference in Game 1 was his players missed some open shots, which actually happened late in the second quarter Monday and allowed Dallas to pull within three just 3 minutes, 43 seconds after trailing by 16.
“We missed like four wide open 3s that, if we can get those same shots, we're going to probably make two of those,” Brooks said.
But, strategically, the Thunder's bench also was smarter Monday.
“I thought we did a better job of attacking their zone,” Brooks said, “and allowing what I like to call rhythm shots that are basically just an extra pass shot. It's wide open instead of taking a shot with somebody running out at you.”
There was no better illustration of that than Fisher's biggest shot of the night — a corner 3-pointer off a feed from Harden, who made the extra pass after Durant kicked it out of a post-up on the opposite block. It gave the Thunder a 92-88 lead with 5:26 left to play.
And the high-arcing, left-handed stroke that swished through the net looked the same as so many of Fisher's other playoff buckets that we've seen replayed over and over throughout the years.
“He gives everything he has to the team,” Brooks said, “and you can't replace those types of players.”