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Basketball is a Foul Game

There has been so much to digest, in a series that seems to sway in the breeze.

In the mood for hindsight, 20/20 or otherwise?

It's about Game 4 Thursday night. Final seconds of regulation, Orlando ahead by three, Los Angeles with the ball.

To foul or not to foul? Always the question. It is the dilemma every coach has faced since some genius inventor gave the world the 3-point line. There is no textbook answer. It remains one of the great go-with-the-gut decisions.

Put me in the camp with those who would foul Derek Fisher, before he gets off his 3-point howitzer to tie the game. Foul Trevor Ariza before he passes the ball to Fisher. Foul Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an assistant coach sitting over on the bench.

Foul anyone. Foul everyone. Because nobody should tie the game with a shot that can turn into a psychological weapon of mass destruction. A victory just ... vanishes.

It would be interesting to see the winning percentage in overtime for the teams caught in the final seconds by a game-tying 3-pointer. The hunch is, it's terrible.

Not everyone agrees with that theory. The jury on this issue will never come back unanimous.

Prudence talked Stan Van Gundy into not fouling Thursday night, since 11 seconds seemed like too much time for something to go wrong. You know the rest. Fisher 3-pointer. Overtime. Lakers victory. Orlando feeling like its collective heart had just been put in the trash compacter.

The question Friday was if the Orlando coach had any second thoughts, after a night's sleep.

"The assumption of a night's sleep," Van Gundy said, "is way off base."

The night before, he had looked over the wreckage of Game 4 of the NBA Finals and declared, "That one will haunt me forever." It's become a hard week.

Fisher used 273 words to try to answer whether he should have been fouled or not, and at the end arrived at no conclusion. "I'll leave you guys to debate whether he should have or not. We'll take the win and we'll get out."

This has become a championship tussle in all its glory. Flips and flops. Juicy bench decisions to ponder. The Lakers lead the series by the frailest 3-1 you'd ever see, for if you take away one missed Orlando lay-up and one Los Angeles 3-pointer, the Magic lead this series 3-1.

"This is a game of inches," Phil Jackson said Friday." Sometimes a trifle."

At the moment, the trifle is Derek Fisher.

At 34, he's supposedly too old.

At 6-1, he's supposedly too short.

His first name's not Kobe and his last name's not Bryant.

Fisher is supposed to be one of the piano movers for the Lakers. He is not supposed to be the piano player.

"I have a responsibility to my team, that if I'm going to be on the floor, then I have to make a difference," he said. So he did, first with the shot that tied the game, then with the shot in overtime that won it. The Magic may never, ever recover.

"None of us can continue at times to just expect that Kobe is going to save us," Fisher said."We have to be willing to take blame, responsibility, accountability."

Just as well the Magic didn't foul anyone, for dramatic purpose. That would have messed up Fisher's chance at being a folk hero.

All good Finals have unexpected giants. Michael Jordan - the classic closer of all time - clinched two NBA titles on shots taken and made in the final seconds by John Paxson and Steve Kerr. Nobody fouled them either.

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