Peja Stojakovic earns salary in money time

DALLAS – For the first few quarters Friday night, Peja Stojakovic couldn’t buy a bucket. But he was worth every penny Mark Cuban is paying him in the fourth.

Actually, the man who signed for the veteran’s minimum in midseason seems like a heck of a bargain after his clutch shooting exhibition to key the Mavs’ Game 3 comeback.

Stojakovic scored 11 points during the fourth quarter, when he drilled three 3-pointers. That made his off-the-mark aim in the first three quarters, when he hit only 1-of-5 shots and missed badly on three wide-open corner 3-pointers, easy to forget.

“All I remember is making that big 3 in the right-hand corner and then coming back with that one dribble and making a big jump shot,” point guard Jason Kidd said.

Kidd was referring to Stojakovic swishing a contested 3 from the right corner for the Mavs’ first points of the fourth, which they entered trailing by six, and knocking down a 21-footer the next possession. Those are the sort of shots the Mavs hoped Stojakovic would make when they recruited the 13-year veteran after the Raptors released him this winter.

The airball in the first half? Well, that wasn’t exactly what the Mavs had in mind.

“I said, ‘That’s not going to happen again,’” said Chandler, who chuckled as he recalled his former New Orleans teammate missing a wide-open 3 by a couple of feet. “Every time he shoots it, I think it’s going in. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.”

That’s why nobody wearing blue was shocked to see Stojakovic snap out of his shooting slump at such a crucial time. A man who had been 3-of-14 in the previous seven quarters hit 4-of-6 shots in the fourth.

After all, this dude does rank fourth in NBA history with 1,760 3-pointers made, plus another 151 in the playoffs.

“In the first half, I wasn’t able to make any shots,” said Stojakovic, whose defense on Lamar Odom down the stretch earned coach Rick Carlisle’s praise. “It was pretty good looks, and kept getting those looks. I just kept being aggressive. Fortunately, the shots went in.

“You try not to think about the missed shots. You’re always hoping the next shot is the best shot.”

Kidd compared Stojakovic’s struggles to those of a pitcher who has a rough inning or two. The key is having a short-term memory.

“That’s what shooters do,” Kidd said, “and he’s one of the best.”