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Sasha Shoots 'Em Dead and More From Game 3

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sasha.jpgSeems like a good morning to make good on a promise: Oh where art thou, The Walker Wiggle?

Thanks to some good-natured jabbering with CelticsBlog member 'The Walker Wiggle' over a piece in which I was a bit too complimentary of Kobe Bryant's play for the Shimmy homager's tastes, I wound up promising to write about a certain other Laker at some point over the next few months.

If last night's performance didn't earn Sasha Vujacic some word space, it's hard to imagine what will.

Vujacic used the breadth of his arsenal to make two more field goals (and score one less point) than the entirety of the Celtics bench in the Lakers' 87-81 Game 3 win.

That arsenal consists of all of two moves: shooting the trey; faking the trey, dribbling once and pulling up from mid-range.

Simple as it all sounds, for at least one night, the Lakers' supersub used the two moves to perfection.  He banged 7-of-10 field goal attempts (3-of-5 from deep) and missed just one of his four chances from the line en route to a 20-point performance, thus making him the only Laker not named Kobe to crack double digits for the evening.

Eight of those points came in the fourth quarter, including three on the open bomb from the left corner that stretched the LA lead to five with just inside of two minutes to play.  Vujacic recovered from a bad miss on the previous possession to step up and drain the shot that began to push the game out of reach for good.

This guy loves to shoot the basketball, and he shoots it well.  It was clear (in the unlikely event that it wasn't beforehand) from that sequence in the game's waning moments that Sasha Vujacic has that intangible ingredient that every shooter must have: endless confidence.  Each shot is a brand-new opportunity to score points, and in his mind, it's clear that the next shot could always be the one that bottoms. 

His body moves with precision and poise.  The results were excellent all season as Vujacic checked in at 43.7 percent from beyond the arc for the year.  But that economy of motion was only more present last night.  Sure, the Celtics once again seemed to forget that the man's job is to shoot and were repeatedly caught unaware of his location on the floor, but it was Vujacic who capitalized on the opportunities afforded him.  He moved fluidly to open spaces without the ball, and each part of his body always seemed to be in sync with the others as he rose up and eased into his compact release.

The ranting was present here through the first two games of the series, and it doesn't change now: The Celtics must be more aware of where the perimeter shooters are located on the court at all times.  They failed at that task at the end of Game 2, and it almost burned them.  They failed again in that area with regard to Vujacic in Game 3, and it proved integral to a frustrating loss.

But even with that said, there is nothing to take away from the fiery fourth-year vet's performance.  He made the most of his looks and made our beloved Celts pay.  So a tip of the cap goes to Sasha Vujacic.  Right along with the hope that the green shuts him down next time around.

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Other observations from a frustrating Celts loss:

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All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out!

  • Jeff Van Gundy on Big Game James Posey: "He's just a winning type of ball player."  Absolutely.  Love this guy and once again thought he was one of the Celts better players.  Pose grabbed a couple of tough boards in traffic, repeatedly scrapped on the floor for loose balls and even earned himself a few trips to the charity stripe (one with a particularly hard drive to the basket) and hit all six of his freebies.  It's a pleasure to see how hard this guy plays every time out.  Where he was throughout most of the fourth quarter remains a mystery, however.
  • Even with the issues from the charity stripe taken into account, Kobe Bryant was spectacular, particularly at the end of the game.  He consistently made the right decisions and hit big shots.  I can do nothing but respect the effort he put out last night.
  • Paul Pierce didn't have his best night.  It happens.  Usual platitudes apply: needs to get to the basket rather than settling, look to stay out foul trouble, avoid silly turnovers.  He's also been great throughout the playoffs (especially the latter portion) and was particularly studly during the first two games of this series, bum knee and all.  We're not going to beat a dead horse here over one rough evening.
  • Speaking of rough evenings, before we get too caught up in the "Paul and Kevin didn't have good nights at all, and yet the Celts were in it at the end!" outlook, it's worth remembering that the Lakers had a couple of major no-shows as well, namely Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.  At one point, ABC actually flashed a score-by-quarter graphic to show that Pau had exploded for four points in the fourth.  There should certainly be some optimism that this team was able to hang in for as long as it did without the full range of services usually contributed by its two top players, and Celts fans have every right to believe that we'll see more from KG and Pierce the next time out.  But we should know that Lakers fans will be justly reacting similarly regarding the prominent members of their front-court.
  • Given his rightly given identity as The Guy Who Was Accompanied By the Turn-Around, it's still hard to get too invested in issuing any sort of complaints about Kevin Garnett, so in brief, the standard concern applies: He needs to get to the basket.  If he commits to doing so, he'll put a hurtin' on the Lakers in the post.  If not, this team could once again be at the mercy of jump shots, which isn't as comforting a thought.
  • No complaints about the officiating overall this time around.  The situation wound up very close to what it was billed to be.  The Lakers were more aggressive in attacking the basket, and it didn't hurt that they were playing at home, so they found their way to the foul line a bit more than the Celts did.  That's the way this league works  I'm still not a Bennett Salvatore fan by any means, but the officials weren't the problem last night.
  • Last night was the sort of game that reminds us exactly why Ray Allen was brought to town.  Beautifully played game, sir.
  • One more problem before we move on to looking forward to a better showing Thursday night: the team's decision to the let the clock run at the end.  As good friend and Columbia Missourian and Meadville Tribune reporter Bill Powell reminds us, "This is the NBA Finals!  The Finals!  Not playing until the end is mind-boggling."  It goes without saying that I'll take the miniscule chance of a miraculous come-back victory any day over getting the game over with a couple of minutes earlier and guaranteeing defeat.  Not an admirable concession of a finish.
All complaining aside, the Celtics still lead this series by a 2-1 count, and the green remans one win away from putting this series in a real stranglehold.  It was a rough first night in LA, but it's over.  Label me ready for a happier outcome on Thursday.