ORLANDO, Fla. – Arms raised in triumph, Derek Fisher walked up the floor looking as if he had just landed the knockout punch.
He delivered two.
Fisher forced overtime with a 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left in regulation and then drilled another with 31.3 seconds to go in overtime as the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Orlando Magic 99-91 in Game 4 on Thursday night to open a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
Now, Kobe Bryant is one win from an NBA title to call his own.
And the Lakers are one victory from title No. 15 and redemption for last year’s loss to Boston.
Fisher got them there.
The 34-year-old known for a turnaround fling with 0.4 seconds left in a 2004 playoff game to beat San Antonio, called making the Magic disappear even better.
“It ranks right up there at the top,” Fisher said. “You know, even greater than 0.4 because I feel like we’re as close as possible to what our end goal is.”
It was the first time since 1984, when Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics hooked up, that two games in a finals have gone to overtime.
When the clock expired, Bryant, trying to win his first championship without Shaquille O’Neal, looked at Tiger Woods and wiped sweat from his brow in relief. Fisher, who has bailed out the Lakers in plenty of big games before, was hugged by every one of his teammates.
He had missed his first five 3s and promised teammate Pau Gasol he wouldn’t miss again.
“He’s been there before,” Bryant said. “He has been there and done that.
“He just has supreme confidence and I think those shots at the end of the game are actually easier for him than the other ones.”
The Lakers, who improved to 7-0 following a loss in the postseason, can wrap up their first title since 2002 on Sunday night in Game 5.
Bryant finished with 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Trevor Ariza and Gasol each had 16 for Los Angeles, which came back from a 12-point halftime deficit. Ariza had 13 of the Lakers’ 30 points in the third quarter.
Unless they can force a Game 6, the Magic will remember this as another finals game that got away.
Dwight Howard was magnificent everywhere but at the free-throw line. Orlando’s superman of a center had 16 points, 21 rebounds and a finals-record nine blocks. But he made just 6 of 14 foul shots, and it was his two crucial misses with 11.1 seconds to go in regulation that doomed the Magic.
Orlando missed 15 free throws.
“I just missed them,” Howard said. “I’ve been working on my free throws. They just weren’t falling tonight.”
After Howard’s late misses, Fisher pulled up and without hesitating dropped a 3-pointer over Orlando’s Jameer Nelson with 4.6 seconds left to tie it at 87. The shot stunned the Magic’s maniacal crowd, which was hoping the home team could win its second straight finals game after dropping its first six.
“I just sensed that was the dagger,” Fisher said. “That was the one that would put us in a position to close out the game even though the game wasn’t over.”
In NBA Finals history, only two players have made more 3s than Fisher’s 40: Robert Horry (56) and Michael Jordan (42).
“It’s character,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “We’ve always said the character has got to be in players if they are going to be great players. You just can’t draft it.”