BOSTON (AP) — Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had a pretty productive relationship when they first came into the NBA together, winning three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and forging a friendship that belied the differences in their personalities and their skills.
"It's not because our games are similar, it's not because of talent similarities or any of that," Fisher said Wednesday after the Lakers practiced for Game 4 of the NBA finals against the Boston Celtics.
"It's just that we've experienced a lot of good and bad things together. Because we've been through those fires, we're just comfortable relying on each other, and I think he knows and I know that if anything in the world happened, if there was one person that would stand up and say, 'I'm here for you,' you know, it would go both ways."
A tough and emotional point guard with a history of clutch performances, Fisher made five baskets in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a 91-84 victory over Boston on Tuesday night and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven NBA finals.
His signature play this time wasn't a long-distance heave — like the one he sank against San Antonio with 0.4 seconds left in 2004 — or a series of jumpers like those that turned things around in Game 4 of the finals against Orlando last year.
Instead, Fisher helped clinch the victory over Boston when he followed through on a breakaway layup before being flattened by three Celtics — including 300-pound Glen "Big Baby" Davis and 6-foot-11 Kevin Garnett. Fisher, who's 6-1 and 210 pounds, converted the three-point play to turn it into a seven-point game.
"He's very, very, very, very tough — mentally and physically," Bryant said. "He doesn't back down from anything or anyone."
Fisher played the first eight years of his career with the Lakers, winning three titles in the Shaq-and-Kobe era before signing with Golden State as a free agent in 2004. It was only then that Bryant appreciated what kind of friend and teammate he had.
"Fish and I, we've always been close, though I think when he left we became even closer, as weird as that seems," Bryant said. "Everything happens for a reason. It's kind of good to see him kind of come full circle and be back here again."
Fisher was traded to Utah in 2006 and spent a year there, but when his daughter, Tatum, developed eye cancer he asked to be released so he could move to a major city where she could be treated. He said Wednesday that she's doing "great"; she and her twin brother Drew will turn 4 this summer.
"I'm hoping that I can bring them a big, gold trophy as a gift for their birthday," Fisher said.
Fisher was moving back to Los Angeles to be near the doctors — with or without an offer from the Lakers. The fact that the team needed a point guard at the time, had the cap room and realized what it was missing since Fisher left makes him think that there's "something else higher than me that was in control of all that."
It didn't hurt that the Lakers added Pau Gasol soon after, and then made it to the 2008 finals — his first season back — before losing to the Celtics. Last year, Los Angeles repeated as Western Conference champions and beat the Magic for Fisher's fourth title.
Now they're in the finals for their third straight year since Fisher returned.
"Of course, anytime I'm on a team I expect to win, but it's hard to imagine that it was planned out," he said. "But, you know, I'm a believer in a higher power, and it's quite an interesting plan that He had."
With two more victories, Fisher and Bryant will earn their fifth title in 11 years as teammates, a tenure that has coach Phil Jackson comparing their partnership — both personal and professional — to a couple of Hall of Famers he coached with the Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
"It's not unusual for players that have played together ... to have a relationship, especially when you have winning," Jackson said. "They have a wonderful relationship, not only in communication but also in knowing how to play with each other in a way that's supportive."
Fisher is the more vocal of the two, the one more likely to call out his teammates with a motivational speech like the one he delivered before the start of the fourth quarter on Tuesday night. Bryant relies instead on a quiet intensity; there's often little doubt how he feels, but you have to read it on his face.
Bryant compares the difference in styles to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Fisher said he's the more peaceful of the two, finding a way to fit in among strong personalities like Bryant, Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal.
"My only concern is for us to win," he said. "I love everybody. But if we don't win, I don't love you as much."