NBA Finals: Derek Fisher comes up big yet again

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Is if keeps on happening, can it really be a cliche? Derek Fisher was perhaps the worst starting point guard in basketball over the course of the regular season. He did not have a great finals, statistically speaking. He was whisper-quiet for most of game seven. And who made the biggest play of Thursday night’s game seven? 
Derek Fisher, of course. During game four of last year’s Finals, Derek Fisher hit the game-tying three that broke the Magic’s spirits in the waning moments of the game, ultimately leading to the Lakers taking a 3-1 series lead and the championship a game later. 
On Thursday night, Fisher did himself one better. With the Lakers trailing by three points with six and a half minutes remaining in the game, Derek Fisher got the ball at the three-point line when Pau Gasol passed it to him out of a double-team. Rajon Rondo closed out hard, but too much time had passed already. Fisher set up, cocked the ball to his left ear, and let a rainbow shot fly over Rondo’s outstretched hand. 
The ball nearly scraped the ceiling; while it hang in the air, everybody had enough time to realize exactly what was going to happen when the ball down. Swish. Tied NBA Finals. New record for most career 3s in the Finals. The Lakers didn’t fall behind for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. Just one more big shot and one more championship for a player who’s become synonymous with both. 
Five seasons ago, Derek Fisher was the backup point guard for a struggling Golden State Warrior team. In fact, he wasn’t even a good backup point guard for a struggling Golden State team. Now he’s the starting point guard on a team that has been to three straight finals and won the last two. In fact, he’s the only Laker to have started every game for the past three seasons. The funny thing is, he’s not any better than he was on the Warriors. He’s still ludicrously slow. His release is still long, and he has a tough time getting any shot off that isn’t a wide-open catch-and-shoot opportunity. He’s not the best ballhandler or playmaker. He has trouble finishing, and doesn’t go to his right very well. 
All Derek Fisher does is play physical defense, come to play every night, make open threes, and never back down from a big shot. That’s all Phil Jackson has ever asked of Fisher, and that’s all Fisher has ever tried to do for Jackson. And all Phil and Fish have done together is win five championships. 
So where does Derek Fisher go from here? He was already never going to have to buy his own drinks in Los Angeles again. (Now somebody might just give him a bar.) He couldn’t really handle the grind of starting 82 games very well this season, and he won’t get any younger this off-season. Jordan Farmar isn’t a world-beater and is more of a traditional point, but he’s a big guard, and can knock down threes well enough to make use of himself in the triangle. He’s just been kept on an (understandably) short leash, and is still prone to mistakes on both ends of the floor because he doesn’t yet believe in himself. With some trust and tutelage, Farmar could absolutely become a worthy successor to Fisher.
Fisher is already the president of the player’s association; if he wants, some team will almost certainly have him as an assistant coach when he retires. Between now and then, Fisher will start to take on more and more of a player-coach role, increasing the time he spends mentoring the younger Lakers as his minutes start to dwindle more and more with the passing of each year.
After this game, a question presents itself: why doesn’t Fisher just retire now? Why not leave after yet another perfect moment, when the adoration for him is absolutely universal? Why subject himself to another 82 games of trying to chase around the fastest players in the league and all the criticism that comes with being the 36-year old point guard of the league’s highest-profile franchise? Why not go out after a blaze of glory rather than allow himself to fade away?
As much sense as that would seem to make, it looks like Fisher is going to stick around for at least one more year. Maybe he doesn’t want to leave Phil and his fellow Laker veterans. Maybe he loves living the life of a professional athlete. Maybe he wants to prove to himself and everyone else that he can still hang with the young guns. Maybe it has something to do with being the head of the player’s association. Maybe he knows that when he retires, his career will be remembered in the best way possible: a player whose failures nobody remembers and whose successes are etched into stone. 
Or maybe he’s just afraid that he’ll retire with one more perfect moment still left in him, and he’ll be sitting at home when the Lakers end up needing it. Phil Jackson and Laker fans everywhere sure are. 

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

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I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.