Kobe Bryant looked like he was ready to kill Sasha Vujacic. And rightly so. With just over two minutes left in Game 3, and the Lakers clinging to a 78-76 lead, Vujacic hoisted a brick from 3-point land. It was quick, it was ill-advised, it was unnecessary, and it sent Kobe down the court waving his arms and complaining.
So what does Vujacic do on the next possession? Hoist another triple.
But this time, it was pure, his 23-footer from the left corner falling through the net and giving LA an 81-76 lead with 1:53 to play. The shot gave Vujacic 20 points for the night and pretty much sealed the Lakers' first victory of the Finals.
That's a mad amount of confidence for a 24 year-old.
"Those are the shots I live for, honestly,'' said Vujacic, who made 7 of 10 shots, including 3 of 5 3-pointers. "I love the last five minutes of the game, last two minutes, last possessions of the game.''
Phil Jackson knew Vujacic's earlier miss—the one that made Kobe go ballistic—wouldn't make him tentative.
"Well, he's a little bit of a rockhead,'' 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.''
Vujacic isn't Italian, but he speaks the language. And that's one reason he has bonded so well with Bryant. The 6-7 guard from Slovenia even said he and Kobe speak Italian to one another during games. Better to keep secrets from opponents.
"That helps in the games because when we talk in Italian, opponents don't understand and then we get a backdoor dunk for Kobe,'' Vujacic said with a smile.
Vujacic said he and Bryant speak Italian in just about every game.
So how do you explain the Celtics earning 38 foul shots in Game 2 and just 22 free throws two days later in Game 3? Or the Lakers going from a paltry 10 foul shots in Game 2 to 34 last night, including 14 in the first quarter?
Uneven officiating? Home cooking?
That may explain some of it. But according to Rajon Rondo, there was another factor: human nature.
The Celtics point guard admitted that a team's sense of urgency dips when it has a 2-0 lead. And it's the other way around too.
"It shouldn't be that way, but, honestly it is,'' he said. "They were playing like they were desperate. I don't think we played like we were desperate.''
Kevin Garnett is 7-feet tall with long arms, great hops and skills. That was evident in the third quarter of Game 3 when he planted himself on the left block time and time again and punished Pau Gasol. He made an assist to Ray Allen, he fed an assist to Kendrick Perkins, he drove for a thunderous dunk that bounced off the back of the rim but resulted in a foul by Gasol, and he sank an 8-foot jump hook from the middle of the paint.
But for some strange reason, Garnett spent the bulk of the first, second and fourth quarters standing between the foul line and the arc, missing jumpers and refusing to do his thing near the bucket.
When asked why he didn't take the ball to the hoop all night long, Garnett said:
"Obviously, in the course of a game, you try to mix things up. I know I do. I've got Pau on me. He's very long. It's not like he's easy when it comes to being a defender. I tried to give him different looks and tried to mix some things up … It's not one of my better offensive games, and I'll make adjustments accordingly. But you're right, I probably do need to take the ball to the basket a little more.''
If he does, the Lakers are in trouble.
The name of Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau was mentioned in connection with several head coaching jobs over the past few months. He was reportedly a candidate for both the Knicks and the Bulls. But Thibodeau, who has been a driving force behind Boston's league-leading defense, didn't even get an interview, and now both spots have been filled. Doc Rivers finds that troubling.
"Tom has been around this game for so long,'' Rivers said before Game 3. "I can understand when you hire someone else. That's fine. I just don't get the no interview part of it.''
Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has been covering the NBA since 1994.