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LAKERS VS. SUNS: GAME 5 : WESTERN FINALS: GAME 5

He's an improbable hero after an inexcusable shot

May 28, 2010|BILL PLASCHKE

"Nooooooooo!"

Nineteen thousand fans shouted in unison as Ron Artest threw up the silliest shot of the season, an unconscionable bomb in the final moments, a boneheaded brick.

"Yessssssssss!"

Nineteen thousands fans shouted in unison as Ron Artest threw up the biggest shot of the season, an improbable snatch-and-toss of a Kobe Bryant airball at the final buzzer, a brilliant bank.

No. Yes. No. Yes. It's taken eight months, but the inevitable has finally happened, Ron Artest has officially driven this city mad, turning us into a confused puddle of splattered emotions, turning us into him.

Oh, yeah, he also just pushed the Lakers to within one win of their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a last-second shot Thursday that gave them a 103-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns in a pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

It was his biggest shot ever! Well, sort of.

"My biggest layup," he said afterward. "I missed lot of layups in the regular season."

It was his biggest win ever! Um, kind of.

"'Win by 30, win by one, it's just a win," he said.

Judging from the way he jumped into Bryant's arms after snatching victory out of the jaws of overtime, we can at least assume that the flighty Artest realized he made the winning basket in what could end up being the biggest victory of the season. Or did he?

After removing himself from the on-court celebration, he sprinted back through the cheers and confetti into the Staples Center tunnel as if this had been any other game. After a furious search, officials who needed him on the court for the requisite television interviews found him standing in the Lakers' locker room, alone.

"Usually after a game, I like to move on," Artest said.

Later, sitting at the interview table alongside the nattily dressed Derek Fisher, Artest looked like he had just finished working on his car. Fisher was wearing a cream-colored sweater and purple shirt. Artest was wearing what appeared to be a wrinkled black Lakers souvenir T-shirt.

"He has an uncanny knack of doing things, and sometimes it just works out," Coach Phil Jackson said, grinning.

Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes both things occur within the same primal scream, and sometimes that scream is the soundtrack of a season.

Thursday was a postcard of that season, Phoenix fighting back from an 18-point deficit to pull within three in the final minute, Artest holding the ball after having made one of six shots in this game, 11 of 32 shots in the last three games combined, and seven of 25 three-pointers in the series.

So what does he do? Naturally, he shot. And, just as naturally, he missed, at which point the normally smart Pau Gasol grabbed the rebound and made the second-dumbest play of the night.

He threw it back to Artest. And, just three seconds into the shot clock, standing beyond the three-point line, Artest flung it up there again. It turns out, a season of frustration with a new system morphed into one desperate heave.

"There's a new system for me . . . I'm trying to somehow, you know, make it work for the team," said Artest, who was brought here to replace last year's postseason hero, Trevor Ariza. "So that's kind of why I took that shot."

It was such a dumb shot, seemingly the entire Staples Center crowd literally shouted, "No!" when it left his hands.

"It's not always a good shot, but nobody's perfect," Artest said. "We were up three. I was hoping to go up six."

It was such an awful decision that, after it clanked and Phoenix took possession, Jackson spent part of the ensuing timeout scolding Artest, who frowned like a reprimanded child and looked in the other direction.

"He was trying not to listen to me, very hard," Jackson said.

It was such a horrific play at such a terrible time, that, after the Suns then tied the score with a crazy banked three-pointer by Jason Richardson with 3.5 seconds remaining, Jackson nearly yanked him.

"I don't know why I left him in the game," Jackson said. "I actually questioned myself when I put him out there on the floor."

But Jackson somehow kept the faith, and Artest somehow figured that Bryant's last-second shot would be short, and somehow he ran from the other side of the court and sneaked between Phoenix defenders and picked it off in mid-air and threw it in.

Incidentally, has anybody else noticed that Bryant's two most important shots this postseason have been misses?

"Just staying with it," Artest said. "Just trying to play my part and see what happens."

Later, while Artest was answering his final question, the interview-room ceiling began to rumble.

"Was that an earthquake or something?" he said, looking up, startled. "Wow."

Something like that. Wow, indeed.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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