After losing the first two games of The Finals on the road, the Lakers–Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic in particular–finally put their stamp on the series, coming through with a much-needed Game 3 win 87-81 over the Celtics.
The Lakers MVP dominated Boston’s defense down the stretch of the fourth quarter on his way to a game-high 36 points to go with seven rebounds. However, it was the unexpected 20 point contribution from reserve Sasha Vujacic that propelled L.A. to their first win of The Finals.
After the game, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers praised Bryant’s clutch all-around effort, but gave even more credit to one of the most unlikely Lakers heroes.
“Kobe was fantastic tonight, but I thought Vujacic was the key to the game,” said Rivers of Sasha’s 7-10 shooting performance, including a game-clinching three pointer with 1:15 remaining.
“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,” said Jackson. “Sasha is always going to make the next shot. That one might have been off, but the next one is going in.”
Sasha said that the Lakers home court had a huge effect on the biggest performance of his life.
“I think they (the home crowd) gave us a little bit more confidence than usual,” said the guard. “We just played with heart. We didn’t play a great game. We didn’t play not even good. We were just fighting and that was the key.”
While Rivers singled out Vujacic, Jackson said that it was the effort of Kobe–both on offense and defense–that carried the team to victory, despite only getting a combined 13 points from Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.
“I think undoubtedly, it’s the leadership of Kobe Bryant out there,” Jackson said when asked to name his key to the game. “He was aggressive right from the start. You know, put, I think, the defense on the heels–obviously they caught up and went by us, but we stayed aggressive out there and Kobe was very instrumental in that.”