|Vujacic sheds an old nickname by scoring in prime time|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 11 June 2008 13:27|
``That happened,'' Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons recalled Wednesday. ``Guys always find your idiosyncrasies and bring them to light.''
Cleamons said the ``10:30'' monicker doesn't seem to get much use anymore, because Vujacic has grown into the role of a successful shooter when the spotlight is shining.
Instead, it's ``The Machine,'' courtesy of Lakers television play-by-play man Joel Meyers.
``He started it, the fans picked it up,'' Vujacic said. ``It's OK. People recognize me as ``The Machine'' right now. I have nothing against it.''
One of those people is MVP teammate Kobe Bryant, who had a ready response Tuesday night when asked about Vujacic's 20-point performance in the Lakers' 87-81 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA finals.
``A machine. Played like a machine,'' were Bryant's first words.
Savior might have been a better description. Bryant scored 36 points - no surprise there. But the other four Los Angeles starers combined for only 22, making just seven of their 28 shots. Vujacic came off the bench to shoot 7-for-10, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
``He was the difference in the game,'' Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. ``There have been stories and books written about the improbable. That's what's so great about sports. You can't predict it.''
Vujacic has made significant contributions this season, but his 20-point effort was improbable because his previous career playoff high was 15 points; his regular-season career high is 22, and he entered averaging 8.1 in the postseason, having made only 40 percent of his shots.
``He's a shooter. He has a difficult role,'' Cleamons said. ``Shooters always believe they're going to make the next shot. Shooters are always playing on emotional elevators. Shooters have to believe they're going to make their next shot no matter how many they've missed.''
That's never been a problem for Vujacic.
``Never. Ever,'' he replied, when asked if he could remember a time when he lacked confidence. ``I had to do the mental training that (coach) Phil Jackson does to his players. It took me a while. It's good.''
While Bryant led the way, it was Vujacic who made the biggest shot of Game 3. The Celtics had scored four straight points to draw within two before Vujacic missed a 3-pointer. But after a Boston miss, Lamar Odom found Vujacic open in the left corner, and he fired away without hesitation. The ball went in with 1:53 remaining, the Lakers had a five-point lead, and Boston didn't pose a serious threat after that.
``It wasn't a great feeling,'' he said of his missed shot. ``Lamar found me, and I made the shot.''
``Not even for a second,'' the 24-year-old Vujacic said. ``Those are the shots I live for. Thanks to Phil Jackson, he has the confidence in me.''
Vujacic, whose team trails the Celtics 2-1 entering Game 4 on Thursday night, said the Lakers never lost confidence in Game 3. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.
``We knew how important yesterday's game was,'' he said. ``Tomorrow's game is going to be very important to us. We're going from there. We're going to Boston, there's no doubt about it.''
The Lakers have to win one of the next two games at Staples Center to make that a reality. Their chances seem good, since they're 9-0 in home playoff games and have won 15 straight home games since their last loss March 28.
Vujacic, a 6-foot-7, 205-pounder from Slovenia, was taken by the Lakers in the first round of the 2004 draft as the 27th overall selection after having played for Snaidero Udine of Italy's top professional league from 2001-04.
As a rookie with the Lakers, he was unimpressive, playing in only 35 games and averaging 2.9 points. He played in all 82 games in his second season, averaging 3.9 points, and raised his average to 4.3 points while playing in 73 games in his third season. He averaged 8.8 points in 72 games this season.
``I was wondering if he could ever grow facial hair,'' Bryant said Wednesday when asked about his first impressions of Vujacic. ``I know he's developed into a big asset for us, and he has a lot of confidence. He plays hard at both ends of the floor, and that comes from all the work that he's put in. He's a gym rat, he's in there all the time. He's been a valuable asset for us all season long.''
Still, Vujacic has often been a whipping boy for his teammates. But it's all in fun.
``He's a good player who's still growing,'' Cleamons said. ``They let him know he's not full-grown yet.''