The 2 minute, 40 second Internet clip captured Derek Fisher's full attention.
Once he sat down and started studying the video, Fisher didn't move. He didn't even mutter the slightest sound.
Eight years later, Fisher still watches the footage like he's seeing it for the first time. Only when the video ends does the veteran Thunder guard speak — but not before requiring a long pause to collect his thoughts.
“It takes me back,” Fisher said. “It was some time ago. A lot happened at that moment, and a lot has happened since then. To think about everything in between, and for me to be sitting here right now, it's pretty amazing how life works out.”
On May 13, 2004, Fisher supplied one of the greatest playoff moments in NBA history. With just 0.4 seconds remaining in Game 5 between his Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, Fisher made a miraculous buzzer-beating jump shot that you have to see to believe. To this day, it still ruffles the feathers of Spurs fans, many of whom never will acknowledge the shot's legitimacy.
On Friday, just two days before the Thunder and Spurs open the Western Conference Finals, Fisher relived his legendary shot in a first-person account to The Oklahoman.
“We were up 17 at one point in that game. To be in that situation at the end of that game was just frustrating beyond belief. I was just kind of like, ‘This is unbelievable that we allowed this to happen. Now, lets' figure out a way to give ourselves a chance to get it back. I didn't know how it was going to happen, or who was going to make the shot. All I knew is there was time still on the clock and so we still had a chance. But those last 11 seconds were a microcosm of the way the game went. It was back and forth. We get the lead, they come back and they take the lead, but we still had to fight through and finish it off with a basket.”
The go-ahead shot
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hit a pull-up jumper with 11.5 seconds remaining to put L.A. ahead, 72-71.
“We weren't surprised that he made a big shot, a tough shot. That's what he had done up to that point and always will do as a player. From there, like I've been telling our guys since I've been here, for some strange reason it always comes down to having to get a stop in order to win a big playoff game. No matter how the first 47 minutes and 52 seconds go, something always happens where those last eight seconds, in order for you to win, you're probably going to have to get a defensive stop. I don't know why it works that way. It just does. So after Kobe hit his shot, that's what I was thinking, ‘One stop and we win.' And then Duncan hits his shot and then all of that goes out the window.”
‘Frustration and disbelief'
After an intentional foul by Fisher and a San Antonio timeout, Spurs forward Tim Duncan caught an inbounds pass from Manu Ginobili on the right wing. With Shaquille O'Neal draped all over him, preventing a clean pass back to a cutting Ginobili, Duncan took two dribbles left to the top of the key. He faded away and launched. He nailed the shot with 0.4 seconds remaining to put the Spurs up 73-72.
“Mostly frustration. A little bit of disbelief that he made the shot. It was a tough shot, but mostly just frustration that we put ourselves in that position. I wasn't thinking it was a lucky shot. I wasn't thinking anything, really. Just from an accountability standpoint, I was just mad. We had a 17-point lead and put ourselves in a position where now we had to make something, in a sense, miraculous happen in order to win. I didn't know it was going to be me. But during that timeout, when the camera is on my face, that's literally what I'm thinking is ‘Why did we put ourselves in this position?' ”
Immediately following Duncan's shot, the Lakers called a timeout, and a chess match ensued. Two subsequent timeouts were called, one by each team, before play would resume.
“During the timeout, the whole time I'm not thinking ‘OK, we lost. The game is over.' I'm just mad that we're even in this position to begin with because we were up 17. I had no idea how we were going to score, but until the game is over it's never over. There were two timeouts called prior to the play where I actually made the shot. So you're trying to stay composed and poised and focused and then come on the court and try to run a play … timeout. Come back out, San Antonio calls timeout. So eight or nine minutes goes by before you actually get to the actual moment. I was just really trying to stay locked in, making sure I'm listening to what (coach) Phil (Jackson) is drawing up on the board; making sure I'm going to be in the right spot that I'm supposed to be in.”
“The typical line play that most teams run. With that much time left, you spin your big out to the front of the rim to see if you can get the lob to the rim. Then I think Karl (Malone) was going to spin and set a little pick for Kobe to flash up so maybe Kobe can just step up and catch and shoot right above the 3-point line. And they played that well. But Robert Horry was guarding the inbound taker, which was Gary Payton. And he doubled Kobe and didn't guard the guy out of bounds, which gave him an open window to just throw it to me. I just waited for everybody to move and I just flashed into an open area. Really, at the end of the day, it was Gary Payton's trust to throw the ball to somebody else other than Kobe or Shaq that really led to the basket. A lot of guys don't trust other people in those situations. They feel like they have to get it to the star guy. So it was his trust and throwing the ball right where I could just catch it and turn and shoot at the same time.”
Fisher executed the catch-and-shoot perfectly, fading to his left after receiving the pass from Payton and throwing up a high-arcing shot over Ginobili. Fisher's momentum sent him to the floor. But when the shot went in, Fisher picked himself up and immediately raced to the opposite end of the floor and out of the tunnel in the far end zone.
“Yeah, that was just old school. You play in high school on the road sometimes in places that aren't safe to play in. And when you win a road game at the buzzer, you better run and get on that bus and get on up out of there before some stuff starts to jump off. So that was just kind of like ‘Let's get out of here.' There's no overturning, no coming back on the court. Game over. Let's go. That was probably the most hilarious part of the whole thing after I finally went back and watched it, because I didn't watch it until after the season was over. The funniest part was watching the shot go in, I get up off the floor and as I'm sprinting that way, everybody on the bench was running down this way. So I fly by them and they have to 180 and turn back and sprint after me going out that way.”
NBA.com has ranked Fisher's shot as the 18th greatest moment in playoff history. It is still shown in arenas throughout the league today and is widely considered to be one of the most improbable shots of all time.
“It's kind of amazing, really, to me. I've always looked at it as one of many. But for other people, it just doesn't work that way. They really feel strongly about that one particular shot. It's one of those moments in life that will never be forgotten. That's kind of surreal, kind of humbling to think about a basketball play being that kind of moment in people's life where they just never ever forget it.”