Lakers forward Ron Artest and Celtics forward Paul Pierce go face to face… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Ron Artest, the calming voice of the Lakers.
Surprisingly, even shockingly, it was true for the first half of Game 7, the Lakers forward keeping his team in the game as everybody else misfired from every angle.
With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol unable to do much of anything, Artest had 12 points and three steals to keep the Lakers within 40-34 at halftime.
He finished with 20 points and five steals, the Lakers' biggest free-agent acquisition saving his best for the last 48 minutes of the season in the Lakers' 83-79 championship-clinching victory Thursday over the Boston Celtics.
"Ron Artest was the most valuable player tonight," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, and he wasn't even kidding. "He brought life to our team, he brought life to the crowd."
How surreal was Artest's night?
There was even a "Ron Artest, Ron Artest" chant near the end of the first quarter, definitely the first of its kind at Staples Center, perhaps the first of its kind anywhere.
Artest came into the game averaging nine points on 35.2% shooting in the Finals. Not exactly the stuff of champions, but good enough for Artest to be the third-highest scorer on the Lakers.
Then came Game 7, and as championship-tested veterans such as Bryant and Gasol made a combined six of 26 shots in the first half, Artest made four of nine, a relative gold mine in a game where 50% shooting would elude every Lakers player except Derek Fisher, who had 10 points on four-of-six shooting.
Aside from Artest, the Lakers made only nine of 40 shots in the first 24 minutes.
Artest's shot faded a bit in the second half, but he made a three-pointer he'll remember forever, a bullet from the right side that put the Lakers ahead, 79-73, with 1:01 to play. It answered a three-pointer by Rasheed Wallace and calmed the Lakers, once again.
Artest again did a solid job on Celtics forward Paul Pierce, holding him to 18 points on five-for-15 shooting.
When it was over, Artest was the first one to hug Bryant. He was jubilant, he was enthralled. He even grabbed ABC sideline reporter Doris Burke and gave her a hug after she interviewed him.
After so much calm, in such a big game, Artest finally broke free. The night was his.
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