Campy, cornball, it was B-cinema at best. But Shaquille O'Neal talked about the film Friday afternoon as if it were a cult classic.
" 'The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,' great movie," O'Neal said, the day after the swish that saved Los Angeles.
It was about a team and a town going nowhere until astrological intervention rescued the franchise from implosion. Julius Erving and Stockard Channing starred. Honest.
As whoppers go, "Big Fish" would have been more apropos for Derek Fisher's spin-fire-and-splash shot in Thursday night's Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. Except tacking on this fantasy ending would have taken more than creative license.
"You couldn't make it up," Fisher said. He caught a pass from Gary Payton, pirouetted 180 degrees in midair and dropped an 18-footer through the netting for an implausibly wild 74-73 win over the San Antonio Spurs and one of the great finishes in modern professional basketball. The Spurs protested to the league office that the game clock started late, but Commissioner David Stern denied the protest Friday, saying the clock "started appropriately."
The Lakers, seeking to become the eighth team in league history to recover from an 0-2 deficit in a seven-game series, returned to business this afternoon at their practice facility. The club revealed that Kobe Bryant was given intravenous fluids after nearly collapsing in Game 5. Bryant was expected to play in Game 6.
That shot also ruined the night of Tim Duncan, who with four-tenths of a second remaining converted his own stirring jumper, a fallaway over O'Neal near the top of the key, a shot Duncan did not even know went in as he hit the ground. He and all of south Texas believed the Spurs had a 3-2 series lead as the deflated Lakers trudged back to their bench for one final timeout -- until Fisher's arching jumper ended the pandemonium.
Most of all, it sent the series back to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Saturday night at Staples Center, where the Lakers have not lost this postseason and hope to parlay that miracle finish into their fourth trip to the conference finals in five seasons. The Spurs and Lakers have won every title in the post-Michael Jordan Chicago era and now the Lakers are within reach of their fourth championship in five years.
"I did feel it was the kind of shot that could give us impetus to win another championship," Fisher said. "I felt like it put us in a position to be four wins away from another finals. That part sunk in."
Fisher wept openly on the bench last season when the Lakers' magical three-year championship run came to a stunning halt. The Spurs took away his dreams and his season. He felt the need to express his emotions like hide-the-pain professional athletes seldom do.
Being a results-oriented business, the Lakers were not moved in the offseason by those tears. They saw Fisher being exposed by a quicker, younger guard. If he could not stay with Tony Parker, San Antonio's stutter-stepping floor leader, then someone else would. Fisher went on to lose his starting job to Gary Payton, the perennial all-star who had spent his career wrapping up great scorers in cellophane. Once Karl Malone was added to the cast, the Lakers were loaded on offense and defense.
O'Neal used questionable taste in jokingly comparing himself to Colin Powell after the acquisitions, claiming he was ready to drop bombs on the rest of the NBA with that kind of offensive arsenal. What was not up for debate was that the Lakers had four future Hall of Famers, any one of which could take and make a clutch shot in the playoffs to keep their season going.
And with four-tenths of a second left in the crucible of Game 5, with Bryant and O'Neal poised to find a way to get that ball on the rim, they went to . . . Fisher.
"I told him today I wanted to be him more than me or anybody else on the team," Malone said. "'Cause Fish hadn't done that in his career in a game like that."
One shot and O'Neal's self-proclaimed "bling-bling" dynasty was alive and well, a week after they had been written off after losing two games to begin the series in San Antonio.
There is this Game 6 business, but bear in mind the Lakers are 7-1 in close-out games at home under Coach Phil Jackson since their title run began in 2000. They have won 10 straight games against teams on the brink of elimination and are 5-0 in those games at Staples Center. When they have an opponent reeling, the Lakers have always dropped the hammer at home.
Some turnabout, huh? The Spurs escaped with a thriller last season in Game 5 at home and ended the Lakers' title run at home in Game 6. They would be in a similar position if not for Fisher's shot less than 48 hours ago.
It went straight down, never grazing the rim and leaving SBC Center in utter shock. Fisher's prayer had lifted the Lakers, his shot essentially taking control of an NBA Finals masquerading as a second-round series.
"I believe in fate and faith," he said of the shot.
The player whose starting job the Lakers took away influenced the outcome the way the greatest players in the game could not. Just like a campy, cornball movie.
"I saw 'The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,' " Fisher said as his teammates filed out of the practice facility this afternoon. "I liked it. A lot. Actually, I was kind of hoping somebody would have used it for a headline today."