Vujacic's flagrant foul wakes up Suns
PHOENIX -- "I was going to kill him," Kobe Bryant said in his on-the-court TV interview immediately after the Lakers' 111-103 series-ending win over the Suns on Saturday that clinched them their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
Bryant was referring to Sasha Vujacic, and the crime that was almost worthy of capital punishment was a flagrant foul 1 by Vujacic on fellow Slovenian Goran Dragic with 11:18 left in the fourth quarter and the Lakers leading Game 6 by 15 points.
Both players were making their way upcourt after the Suns' second-year point guard had just made a short jumper when Vujacic could feel Dragic on his back and immediately raised both of his arms up and behind him, catching Dragic under his chin with his left elbow.
The foul halted the Lakers' momentum, as the officials spent several minutes reviewing the play on a video monitor to determine the severity of the foul. With the action stopped, the US Airways Arena crowd that had gone silent with its team down by 18 points in the third sprung back to life, and Phoenix went on a 20-8 run in the next nine minutes. Phoenix cut Los Angeles' lead to just three before Bryant scored nine of his 37 points in the final 2:19 to preserve the win.
Making matters worse for Vujacic, Dragic had six points and an assist during the Suns' surge.
Dragic, 24, took the high road after the game.
"I was just close to him, and he hit me, but that's all," Dragic said. "I know he wants to help his team, and I want to help my team, and that's it. I'm not mad at him, and I hope he's not mad at me, but I want to say that I wish him good luck in the Finals."
Vujacic, who at 26 is two years older than Dragic, said he did not know the Suns substitute while growing up in their native Slovenia. The contentious relationship is believed to have started when Vujacic was cut from the Slovenian national team this past summer because of a knee injury, while Dragic made the team.
After the game, Vujacic admitted that the play was the "dumbest thing I've done in my career" but said he didn't deserve a flagrant foul, and Dragic had stirred the bad blood to begin with.
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"When you're a low human being, you can say things that some people said," Vujacic explained. "It's a little bit frustrating when as a human being, you don't cross things and don't say things to the people involved about their families and stuff. That was a little bit low from the other point of view."
After the game, Vujacic lingered around Suns coach Alvin Gentry while he exchanged pleasantries with Derek Fisher, but Gentry chose not to speak to Vujacic.
"I really got sick to my stomach [during the Suns' run] because like I said, it was a play that I have never done in a lifetime, and it just came out of nowhere," Vujacic said.
Needless to say, Bryant did not follow through on his initial temptation.
"He's still breathing," Bryant said with a smile at the postgame podium.
Finals dress code
Shannon Brown was not on the Lakers when they lost to the Celtics in six games in the 2008 Finals, but when he was acquired from Charlotte in February of last year, he quickly learned how Boston was banned in the Lakers' locker room.
"I had on like a green pair of Pradas [shoes] that I wore, and they told me, 'Don't never wear them again,' and I knew what it was about," said Brown, who started in place of the injured Bryant against Boston on Feb. 18. That day, the Celtics beat the Lakers by one on a missed jumper by Fisher at the buzzer. "It was no surprise what that rivalry was about," he said.
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Just as the color green has been eliminated from the Lakers' closets, only one player on the team, Andrew Bynum, put on the commemorative T-shirt the Lakers were presented after the game for winning the Western Conference title for the third straight year. No one put on the cap.
"This rivalry goes back a long time," Brown said. "Both franchises have the most championships, and that's what matters right now: championships. We ain't even put these hats on because this ain't what we want. We want another championship, and if it comes against Boston, it's going to be very special."
They said it
"It's a sexy matchup." -- Bryant on the Lakers and Celtics renewing their rivalry and meeting in the Finals for the 12th time. Boston has a 9-2 edge.
They said it, Part 2
"They're physical. [Kevin] Garnett showed that during the course of [Game 6 against Orlando]. They're going to be physical. I guess they've got that part of their game back." -- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, offering his initial thoughts on the Celtics before Game 6 against the Suns.
This and that
Bryant passed Magic Johnson for the most playoff games played in Lakers franchise history with 191. Bryant tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for second place on the NBA list of most career playoff games with 30-plus points with 75. Michael Jordan is first with 109. Bryant averaged 17.5 points and shot 50 percent solely on jump shots from 16 feet or longer in the six-game series against the Suns. In the first two rounds against Oklahoma City and Utah, he averaged 7.5 points and shot 37.5 percent from the field from the same distance. "A B C " was written in big red letters on the white board in the Lakers' locker room after the game, referring to the line "always be closing" from the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross." The Lakers have now won seven of their past eight closeout opportunities and four straight on the road.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.