|Sasha Vujacic, part of LA's "Bench Mob," wants to improve on his Game 1 stats. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)|
Sasha Vujacic arrived early at TD Banknorth Garden yesterday morning, getting in some extra shooting. He planned to return in the afternoon for the same reason. "Why not?" he asked. If you're the Lakers, there was no good excuse. Entering Game 2 tonight, they wouldn't mind more production from the "Bench Mob," which includes Vujacic, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, and Ronny Turiaf.
"We were good throughout the year and now when all eyes are kind of pointed at us, we've got to know we can bring that poise that we've been bringing all year long," said Vujacic of the bench players. "We can't panic that they took a couple of our offensive things away. We've got to be smart enough to figure out how to play against that."
Vujacic said he "missed a couple of stupid shots," wide-open looks in which the ball circled in and out. He finished with 8 points on 2-for-7 shooting. With extra shooting, Vujacic hoped he could gain a better feel for the arena and avoid a repeat of his opening-game performance.
More scoring from the outside by Vujacic, in particular, could help the Lakers. In terms of percentage, Vujacic is the second-best 3-point shooter on the team.
"Right now, what this team is asking me to do is to be a shooting guard and come in for Kobe [Bryant]," said Vujacic. "They are asking me to play good defense and eventually make open shots if they are there.
"There is a certain responsibility when you're going in for Kobe. But our game changes when he's not here. We play a different kind of basketball. They slow the pace down. They play more of a half-court offense. We try to push it more and change sides of the floor. We'll be effective in Game 2."
Vujacic watched a DVD of Game 1 a couple of times, as well as an edit that pointed out areas in which he could improve offensively and defensively.
"The thing is, I kind of accepted the challenge with [the Spurs'] Manu [Ginobili] a little bit personally and I'm going to do the same thing in this series," said Vujacic. "My defense was not the way I wanted it to be [in Game 1]. On a couple occasions, I could use better solutions. From the DVD, I can learn from the mistakes.
"I've got to eliminate a couple mistakes and then we'll be OK. You can watch and study to a certain point, but once you're out on the court, you've just got to know what our game plan is, and we can't lose that goal."
Undoubtedly, the Slovenian guard reviewed some of his defense on Ray Allen. Whether he saw those replays or not, it was probably hard to forget moments like the one when Allen knocked down an open 3-pointer from the right corner with 5 minutes 47 seconds remaining in the third. Vujacic ran into a screen set by P.J. Brown and was nowhere to be seen when Allen launched his shot.
Although Vujacic arrived in the NBA with suspect defense, he has worked hard to overcome the reputation that follows all European players in the league in that regard. To get better, he worked with Bryant. Now, he takes pride in being able to stop other players.
"One of the reasons I didn't play my rookie year was because I couldn't guard anyone, especially at that time when I was playing point guard more than shooting guard," said Vujacic. "So I kind of locked myself in the gym with Kobe.
"I remember for a straight two weeks or three weeks, I would just work on defense. Our coaches at the time, everybody was saying that I couldn't play defense, so I wanted to come in for the second season and prove them wrong, that Europeans can play defense."
Vujacic and Bryant share a competitive feistiness on the court and speak fluent Italian. Vujacic believes that helped the guards bond.
"Coming here, I saw that he was the same way," said Vujacic. "I didn't want to change. I just wanted to stay myself. He's very aggressive in the practices, and I kind of take a little bit out of it. It's unpleasant during the practice, but that's what got us to the Finals."
Vujacic will find out tonight if his extra work will pay off. If the "Bench Mob" can get back on track, he believes the real benefit will come later in the series.
"If the series goes six, seven games . . . it's going to show who has the deeper team, who has the better team, and who's more prepared to be able to win. We've just got to come out with a different mentality in Game 2 and we'll be OK."