TNT announcer Doug Collins loves calling Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic "an irritant."
For the most part, he's talking about Vujacic's uncanny ability to work his way under the skin of opponents.
The list of players Vujacic has irritated is long and respectable: Carmelo Anthony, Mike Bibby, Allen Iverson, Shane Battier, Renaldo Balkman, Kevin Garnett, Baron Davis, J.R. Smith, Chris Paul, and, last night, Goran Dragic.
But what Collins doesn't say is that Vujacic irritates Lakers fans and Lakers players just as much.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has called Vujacic "brainless" and said that he annoys his own team everyday.
Every time he raises both his palms in the air after an obvious hack, with his face contorted in a whine, I want to punch him in the face.
Just last season, fellow pine rider Adam Morrison did punch Vujacic in the face during practice.
Ask two Lakers fans their opinion of "The Machine" and the answers could vary from "he plays with the most heart of anyone on the team" to "he's the stupidest player on the planet."
But during last night's victory over the Phoenix Suns, which gave the Lakers a 3-2 series lead, Vujacic proved his worth.
He didn't drain three-pointer after three-pointer like he did during the 2007-2008 season. He's not a great game shooter anymore, as his career 39 percent field goal percentage (37 percent from three) testifies.
He's not a particularly good defender either. His arms are short. His lateral quickness isn't great. And he can't jump very high.
But he's feisty.
And last night, Vujacic changed the game.
During Game Four, the Suns' Dragic dominated Lakers reserve point guard Jordan Farmar, scoring eight points and dishing eight assists. He controlled the tempo of the game whenever he was out on the court.
In Game Four, the Suns scored 26 points during Dragic's stint as point guard in the second quarter. Dragic scored two points, but had four assists during that run and pushed the tempo.
He led the Suns with a plus-18 for the game.
So in Game Five, Jackson turned to Vujacic to slow down his fellow Slovenian. Sasha did more than just slow him down. He dominated Dragic.
With Vujacic guarding Dragic, the Suns scored four points and had five turnovers during the first five minutes of the second quarter. Dragic exited the game two minutes earlier than he did in Game Three.
Dragic finished the game with a team-worst minus-seven. Vujacic finished with a modest plus-six.
But the beauty of Vujacic's game didn't show until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
After a foul that sent Pau Gasol to the free throw line, Vujacic walked straight toward Dragic muttering something, probably in Slovenian. Dragic shoved Vujacic backwards and The Machine's acting skills would have made TNT analyst Reggie Miller proud. They picked up a double technical, and Dragic seemed beyond the point of frustration.
A minute later, after a Dragic turnover, Vujacic nailed a three-pointer to give the Lakers a nine-point lead.
ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, proud member of The Machine's fan club since 2008, tweeted at this point: "Vujacic/Dragic is exempt from my 'every NBA feud starts over a women (sic) or a card game rule.' You don't need a reason to hate Vujacic."
His mental warfare with Dragic or "the kid on the other team" continued after the game.
It's quite possible, perhaps probable, that Dragic will get the best of Vujacic and the Lakers when the Suns return to Phoenix. But last night, while the game-winning shot by Ron Artest (probably the only Laker more insane than Vujacic) will be what's remembered, Sasha's play on Dragic really set the tone for his team's victory.
"We're in the finals of the conference and we're defending our title so everybody that comes across you got to eliminate," Vujacic said on ESPN.com.
Spoken like a true machine.
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