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I’m taking liberties with a part of the interlude of the classic 1973 Stevie Wonder hit, Living for the City. Mr. Wonder’s post script was referring to a newcomer’s wide-eyed delight about the skyscrapers and the fast pace upon arrival to New York. I’m, alluding to Los Angeles and a kid name Sasha.
The Rockhead Machine
Four years ago, a certain 20-year old Slovenian could have been walking down Rodeo Drive whistling that same Wonder-ful tune. In 2004, the Lakers drafted Sasha Vujacic with the 27th overall selection in the first round and a whole new world opened up to him.
The 6-7 guard struggled enormously in his new home his first three years. He was always a tease though, making trey after trey in practice but only occasionally making it when it counted during a game.
But this season and during the earlier rounds of the playoffs, he began to play with more consistency. Tonight, he was the key to the 87-81 Lakers victory.
Vujacic scored 20 points. He shot 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-5 from the three-point arc. Besides Kobe Bryant’s 36 points, no other Laker reached double figures.
“That’s what I love the most, and that’s what I live for, those kind of games,” Vujacic said. “My shot went in.”
He lived up to his self-proclaimed nickname, the Machine. But Phil Jackson had another moniker for Vujacic.
“Well, he’s a little bit of rock-head,” Jackson said. “That’s what we call him. He believes in himself very sincerely that he’s going to make the next one, and you have to be that way if you’re going to have the guts to go out there and do it.”
“I’m stubborn,” Vujacic said. “That’s what got me where I am.”
His stubbornness paid of tonight. With 2:25 left in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up 78-76, Vujacic missed a long three. On the next possession, he hit a three from the short corner in front of the Celtics bench to stretch that precarious lead to 81-76. The Celtics never got closer.
“They double-teamed Kobe, Lamar (Odom) got the ball and he found me in the corner and I was wide open,” Vujacic said. “I made it, and we got a “W.”
There were other moments earlier in the game that Vujacic’s play mounted momentum for the Lakers.
In the second quarter, after receiving a back-door pass, Bryant fed the paint and the ball swung with two passes around to Vujacic. The fifth man to touch the ball on that possession, Vujacic also got a screen for more space and nailed a three. The basket ignited a 14-7 run leading to a 40-29 Lakers bulge.
However, the Lakers lost their six-point halftime lead and were down 62-60 at the end of the third quarter. Jackson began the fourth quarter with a designed play for Vujacic. He hit the three and the STAPLES Center home crowd got pumped for the home stretch.
Celtic coach Doc Rivers was also impressed.
“He was huge,” Rivers said. "I thought he was the biggest part—Kobe was fantastic, but I thought Vujacic was the key to the game.”
In the pre-game press conference, Phil Jackson was questioned whether he would make some adjustments.
“We’ll have to see,” Jackson said.
Was the Zen Master being coy or rather did he just have nothing but not letting on that he was out of answers?
Nope. Jackson showed once again that he can be coy and the “Real McCoy.”
Jackson made a least one adjustment. The Lakers opened the game with Bryant guarding Rajon Rondo. If the thought was to preserve Bryant for the offensive end it did that and more.
The Celtic point guard had torched the Lakers for 16 assists in Game 2 and in Game 1; he netted 15 points while dishing out seven assists. Rando ended the firsthalf of Game 3 with just four assists and never was a factor although he also went out in the third quarter with an injury.
“[It] developed a cross-match at the other end of the floor that got Kobe going early,” Jackson said. “The cross-match was effective earlier in the game, Rondo having to guard Kobe, and those situations were beneficial for us.