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 LOS ANGELES (AP) -Sasha Vujavic, of all people, came to the aid of Kobe Bryant where his more prominent teammates mostly failed.
With that, the Los Angeles Lakers got the victory they had to have.
Vujacic, a sharpshooter from Slovenia, came off the bench to score a career playoff high 20 points including a crucial 3-pointer with a little under two minutes remaining, and the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 87-81 on Tuesday night in Game 3 of the NBA finals.
The victory trimmed Boston's lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Only three teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win the finals, but no NBA team has ever rallied successfully from a 3-0 deficit in any series.
Bryant, of course, led the Lakers with 36 points capped by two crucial baskets after Vujacic's decisive 3-pointer. Vujacic was the only other Los Angeles player to reach double figures. The other four Los Angeles starters combined to shoot 7-for-28 and score 22 points.
``Sasha was really we has our offense off the bench,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
The 24-year-old Vujacic, a first-round draft choice in 2004, shot 7-for-10 including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter, and had four rebounds and an assist in 27 1/2 minutes.
The Celtics scored four straight points to draw within two before Vujacic missed a 3-pointer. But after a Boston miss, Lamar Odom found the fourth-year pro open in the left corner, and he fired away without hesitation. The ball went in, the Lakers had a five-point lead and Boston didn't pose a serious threat after that.
Center Pau Gasol had five of his nine points in the fourth quarter, but shot just 3-for-9. Forwards Odom and Vladimir Radmanovic, both saddled with foul problems, managed only seven points between them, and Derek Fisher added six.
The Lakers can even the series Thursday night in Game 4. The fifth game will be played Sunday night at Staples Center before the action shifts back to Boston for Games 6 and 7, if they're needed.
The Lakers were an angry bunch about the free throw situation in Game 2, when Boston went 27-for-38 and the Lakers were 10-for-10. The situation changed in Game 3, with Los Angeles going 21-for-34 and the Celtics 15-for-22.
The Lakers surpassed their Game 2 total in the first quarter, and tried 22 in the first half but made only 12. So instead of having a lead at or near double figures, their advantage was only six although they held Boston stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to two points each.
That was two fewer than the Gasol-Odom tandem. Odom went scoreless, limited to a little over seven minutes by foul problems. Gasol missed his four field goal attempts and shot just 2-for-6 from the foul line.
Vujacic, who averaged 8.8 points during the regular season and 8.1 points in 17 previous playoff games, scored nine of his team's 23 points in the second period, making four field goals without a miss. He had shot 42-for-105 including 9-of-20 in the postseason.
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