LIKE A FISH BACK IN WATER GUARD SCORES CAREER-HIGH 26 IN SEASON DEBUT LAKERS 112, BOSTON 107.
Derek Fisher's season debut came more than four months late. Sixty-two games late. And the time spent sitting and watching and grimacing as his Lakers sleepwalked through the first two-thirds of their championship defense was not an enjoyable pastime.
Is it any wonder that he hit the court Tuesday night wound up like a toy car with too-taut rubber bands?
Fisher, playing his first game since the Lakers won the championship in June, brought all the energy and enthusiasm the team expected, and much, much more, and his drive pushed the Lakers to a 112-107 victory over the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.
The usual Fisher trademarks were all in evidence - the defensive stops, the scraps for loose balls. But the Lakers never expected the five-points-per-game reserve guard to rescue the offense as well.
But he did. Fisher turned in a career-high 26 points to go with eight assists and a career-high six steals in an unexpected 37 minutes.
The victory stopped the Lakers' losing skid at two games. They have not lost three in a row in the regular season since April 1999.
Fisher brought much more to the game than his statistics. The Lakers have been unstable all season and if nothing else, could use the familiarity of personnel.
``What matters is that Robert (Horry), Rick (Fox), Derek, Kobe (Bryant), Shaq (O'Neal), they played together for four or five years now, and that's what counts,'' coach Phil Jackson said. ``They know how to play together. They know how each other's going to play and they know the strength of each player and the weakness of themselves and weakness of each player and how to help each other out, and that's really the key. And when we get (Ron Harper) back, we'll have that coterie of players that really played together that have that feel.''
Jackson had figured to play Fisher maybe eight minutes, then see how the guard felt. He quickly determined that not only was Fisher's surgically repaired right foot sound, but that the Lakers couldn't afford not to have him on the floor.
Shaquille O'Neal overcame a slow start to score 28 points, and the Lakers overcame a 42-point effort by Celtics star and Inglewood High product Paul Pierce.
When Fisher made his debut, he made Brian Shaw look like a prophet. It was Shaw who said the Lakers needed - desperately needed - all that Fisher brings to a game. The hustle. The grit. The all-out effort. In short, his heart.
The fans sensed this, too, and they roared when public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter called Fisher's name during introduction of the starting lineups. Their enthusiasm was not misplaced.
On the Celtics' first possession, Fisher stole the ball from Randy Brown and took off for a fast-break layup, got fouled instead and made two free throws for the Lakers' first points. A minute later, he had a defensive rebound. And less than two minutes into the game, Fisher had drawn his first charge, from Antoine Walker.
Photo: (color) Derek Fisher (2) was in the middle of things all night Tuesday, scoring a career-high 26 points in his first game of the season.
Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
Box: GAME RECAP