Thunder point guard Derek Fisher breaks into a smile as the Staples Center… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The homecoming began with the national anthem. The fans couldn't even wait until it ended.
"Derek!" and "Fish!" they shouted during the song, interrupting the L.A. Delta Chorale in mid-red-glare.
It always sort of felt patriotic to cheer Derek Fisher, didn't it? It was certainly appropriate Thursday, his return to Staples Center becoming two hours' worth of bombs bursting in the air above a Lakers team that cowered beneath their former leader and his new teammates.
Fish was back, just in time to remind the Lakers that they weren't.
Fish won big, and the Lakers lost bigger.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, the best team in the West, came back from a 12-point deficit to run over the Lakers in a 102-93 victory that made a huge swaggering statement about the Lakers' chances of playing in June.
Fisher has a better chance of growing hair.
Perhaps buoyed by an emotional pregame tribute for his first trip home since being traded away two weeks ago, Fisher scored seven consecutive points in the second quarter and helped calm a Thunder that outscored the Lakers 13-1 to start the third quarter and roll to the win in an embarrassing fashion.
There was Russell Westbrook running past a jogging Kobe Bryant at the end of the third quarter and hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer, a shot so emphatic Westbrook stood at midcourt and pretended to shoot two guns and then holster them.
There was Nick Collison — yes, Nick Collison — sneaking in ahead of Pau Gasol for an offensive rebound and basket putback. There was Westbrook, after a long Thunder possession, finding himself wide open for a dunk ahead of a chasing Steve Blake.
With 9:08 remaining, fans began booing, and it only got worse. After cutting the lead to nine points late, the Lakers seemingly had one more chance to make a run when they ran an offensive set so horrific, it resulted in a confused fumble by Gasol and a 24-second violation.
The entire second half, in which the Lakers were outscored 58-44, was a basketball violation.
Think this team's championship chances were drastically improved at the trading deadline? Think this team finally has its act together? Think again.
The Lakers were supposed to be a better match for the Thunder's quickness, yet new guard Ramon Sessions was outscored 36-7 by Westbrook. The Lakers were supposed to be even stronger inside with the evolving Andrew Bynum, but the Thunder played them to a 48-all tie in the paint.
Thanks to Fisher's return, at least the game had a little love.
After starting lineups were introduced, the
players from both teams stayed on the fringes of the court while the video scoreboard showed replays of Fisher's finest moments during his nearly 13 seasons here. While watching one last-second shot after another, fans stood and cheered for a long couple of minutes.
Standing in front of the Thunder bench, Fisher tried to act composed and cool and ignorant of the celebration before finally waving as the applause continued.
"Thanks for all you've done, Fish" read the scoreboard.
Then he came into the game with two minutes left in the first quarter and scored his seven points on a jumper, a runner and a layup. That's not what the Lakers will miss. What the Lakers missed was how he played 15 calm minutes in leading the Thunder to a comeback.
Fisher has always been about selfless inspiration, and nothing hurt him more than the talk that the Lakers traded him because they thought he would cause trouble in a backup role behind Sessions. In a pregame news conference, he became a bit upset when denying that talk. He made it clear, if the Lakers had only asked him, he would have gladly accepted a lesser role to stay here through the end of the season.
"That flies in the face of … the type of team player I've been in every group I've ever been part of," Fisher said. "Team sports raised me..I was raised doing team sports ... that has always stood for sharing and sacrificing and giving of yourself so the group can succeed."
Was he disappointed in being characterized as a potential malcontent? He wouldn't answer the question, but his steely stare said it all.
"I don't know if I was disappointed, it's not for me to speak at this point on how things could have been handled or should have been handled," he said. "I moved on. I think obviously the organization had intentions of moving on, and exercised those intentions, and had every right to do so."
What the Lakers didn't think he could do, he is doing now in Oklahoma City.
"That's what I'm explicitly focused on doing for the Thunder right now," he said.
So much for all that happy talk that the Lakers have improved as the season has progressed. One local columnist, in what was surely a spoof, even urged readers this week to apologize to Jimmy Buss for ever doubting his basketball acumen in trading Lamar Odom and Fisher for basically nothing while acquiring Sessions. At this rate, that columnist will soon be writing his own apology.
Maybe the Lakers really didn't need Derek Fisher. But they certainly didn't need this.