Ron Artest provides entertaining performance in Lakers' 139-137 triple overtime win over Phoenix Suns
The crowd gasped in frustration, pleading for Lakers forward Ron Artest not to shoot the wide-open three-pointer.
He did anyway.
The shot dropped in the bucket, gave the Lakers a three-point lead in the first overtime Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns and the 18,997 at Staples Center reacted hysterically. In return, Artest blew kisses in the air, soaking in all the adulation.
The image surely represents the never-ending anxieties and fickle relationship Laker fans have with Artest, swinging in frustration over his trigger-happy tendencies and distracted persona to admiration for his fearless mindset and goofball behavior. But the latter image was present all night long in the Lakers' 139-137 triple overtime victory Monday over the Phoenix Suns, a performance that featured Artest scoring seven of his 18 points on seven of 14 shooting and one of his three steals in extra regulation with funny antics along the way.
When he stole the ball from Suns guard Steve Nash in the third overtime, Artest drove for a fast break, finished with a one-handed dunk that gave the Lakers a 135-132 lead with 1:53 remaining and flexed and kissed his biceps afterward. Moments later, Artest pulled up for an off-balance 15-foot fade-away that somehow went in, giving the Lakers a 137-132 edge with 1:08 remaining and prompting him and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant to embrace at center court.
If those plays weren't entertaining enough, Artest's post-game interview surely was. He proclaimed the Lakers game lasted for three hours and nine minutes because he and boxing promoter Bob Arum thought it'd give him a plug to promote a possible Manny Paquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight.
"I knew it was going to happen so half the time I was just on roller skates," Artest said. "Did you see me skating? I was back skating because I knew what was going to happen."
In reality, the Lakers talked frequently during timeouts about complementing Bryant, whose 42 points on 15 of 31 shooting featured an apparently healthier left ankle, sharper rhythm and a mix of both clutch shots and questionable ones. There Artest was to fill that void, much the way he did with a game-winning putback in Game 5 of the Lakers' Western Conference Finals series last season against Phoenix and of course in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals where he recorded 20 points on seven-of-18 shooting, five steals and held Boston's Paul Pierce to 18 points on a five-of-15 clip. Whether this will prove to be a turning point for Artest is hard to say.
"I don't know," said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson when pressed whether Artest can carry anything from this performance moving forward. "I've never seen any carry-over factor over the years."
That's because Artest's Game 7 heroics in the 2010 NBA Finals followed more inconsistency on both offense and defense. But since the All-Star break, a moment Jackson noticed Artest "recharged," his play has exceeded his season average in points per game (10.35, 8.4), shooting percentage (42.5%, 40.2%) and playing time (32.43, 29). Oh yeah, and let's not forget his defense. It's pretty rare for the Lakers to play through at least three triple overtimes since moving to Los Angeles, the only other times being a 133-124 triple OT loss Dec. 20, 2006 against Charlotte, a 154-153 quadruple overtime loss Jan. 29, 1980, to Cleveland, a 122-117 triple overtime loss Feb. 2, 1969, to San Francisco and a 137-136 triple OT victory on Dec. 8, 1961, against Philadelphia. So it was only fitting Artest would showcase his heroics and antics in another big game.
"He understands the stage we play on," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom of Artest. "He's going to make a great wrestler. He's got the antics and he knows what's going on. He'll hit a guy with a chair. Ron will be one of the best wrestlers ever. His interviews are great and that's what it takes to be one of the champions in wrestling right now. You have to have one of the best interviews."
Artest surely fit that bill before the media afterward. But he backed it up with his play as well.
"I knew what the outcome was so I was relaxed," Artest said. "We talked about it already. It's not a fix. We know what's going to happen. When we say what's going to happen, it happens."