LOS ANGELES - On a night when Los Angeles's starters not named Kobe Bryant combined for 22 points, Sasha Vujacic bailed out the Lakers, continuing to give the Western Conference champions a credible chance to win the NBA championship.
The third-year guard from Slovenia scored a playoff-career-high 20 points in an 87-81 victory last night at the Staples Center, cutting the Celtics' lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
"Kobe was fantastic, but I thought Vujacic was the key to the game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He was aggressive and deserved what he got. He was more aggressive than the guys guarding him."
Vujacic made 7 of 10 shots, including 3 of 5 3-point attempts, but none were bigger than the trifecta with 2 minutes 1 second to play that gave Los Angeles an 81-76 lead. The Lakers led by at least 4 points for the rest of the game.
"These are the shots I live for," said Vujacic, whose previous playoff high was 15 points May 4 against Utah. "I love the last five minutes. My teammates did a great job. They double-teamed Kobe, Lamar [Odom] got the ball and he found me in the corner and I was wide open."
The 3-pointer came 32 seconds after Vujacic missed a 3-pointer.
"He's a little bit of a rockhead," Lakers coach Phil 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. Sasha is always going to make the next shot. That one might have been off, but the next one is going in."
Vujacic, who entered the game averaging 8.1 points in the postseason, scored 8 points in the fourth quarter. He had the first points of the quarter on a 3-pointer that put the Lakers ahead, 63-62, and made a 22-foot jump shot that tied the score, 66-66, with 8:13 left.
"He knocked down shots when we needed [him] to," Bryant said.
Other than Vujacic, the Laker benched scored just 9 points.
"Sasha was an awfully tough bench," Jackson said. "The open shots he got, he made. His defense was good for us tonight, and we couldn't have won the game without his help."