A reporter wanted to know following Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers how important Derek Fisher has been for the Thunder in late-game rotations this season.
The question seemed to catch Thunder coach Scott Brooks off guard. He responded by playfully asking if he's allowed to talk about Fisher anymore. Typically, Brooks doesn't need much prompting.
“You can't say enough good things about him,” Brooks said.
Through the Thunder's first 11 games, Fisher has been a pleasant surprise. The NBA's second oldest player has supplied quality minutes that belie his statistical production.
In each of the past three games, Fisher has been a fixture in the Thunder's fourth-quarter lineup, playing 34 of 36 minutes and providing pivotal perimeter defense.
After a 92-79 win at Milwaukee last Saturday, Brooks called Fisher the game's unsung hero. He played all 12 minutes in the final frame and helped to hold Bucks leading scorer O.J. Mayo to five points on 1-for-4 shooting.
“He didn't score a point, but he impacted the game,” Brooks said. “And I told the guys after the game, ‘That's a classic example of how you play. You play with your heart every possession and good things will happen.'”
Two nights later, Fisher again played the entire fourth quarter against Denver. And again, he didn't have a single made field goal. His only two points came on a pair of free throws with 3.5 seconds remaining. But his defensive effort helped limit the Nuggets to 6 of 21 shooting in the fourth quarter.
“In that fourth quarter, we really locked in and did a much better job,” Brooks said. “We played inspired basketball for one another, and I think Fish was a huge part of that. You just got to love guys that play with everything they have. You can't say enough about his effort. His effort turned that game around.”
The Thunder went from trailing, 92-83, through three quarters to a two-point win.
And on Thursday against the Clippers, Fisher played the first 10 minutes, 11 seconds of the final quarter, again scoring just two points but turning the tide with defensive energy and effort. He started the period defending Clippers spark plug Jamal Crawford and soon switched to star Chris Paul, holding them both in check.
“He was good,” Brooks said. “He plays the right way. That term has been going around for a while now, but he plays the right way … You want all your players at the end of the game to never look back and say ‘I wish I would have played a little bit harder.” He doesn't ever say that, and that's what you like.”
Fisher is shooting just 37.9 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from behind the 3-point line in his 10 games this season. Still, 50 percent of his 146 minutes have come in the fourth quarter, illustrating how much of an impact he's had. He's played all 12 fourth-quarter minutes four times already.
“All you can do is tip your hat to a guy like that,” Kevin Durant said of Fisher.