Lakers forward Ron Artest fights for rebounding position against Boston… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Ron Artest was the hero of Game 7 last June, keeping the Lakers in the hunt long enough for a fourth-quarter run that made them NBA champions for a 16th time.
He had 20 points and five steals that night against Boston, enough for Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to call him the Game 7 most valuable player because "he brought life to our team, he brought life to the crowd."
There was even a "Ron Ar-test, Ron Ar-test" chant, Lakers fans pumping him up while Kobe Bryant staggered to a six-for-24 shooting effort.
On Sunday, though, Artest was one of the main reasons for the Lakers' 109-96 loss to Boston.
His defense was shoddy against Paul Pierce and he made a numbing one of 10 shots, scoring only three points in almost 24 minutes. For the second consecutive game, he did not get off the bench in the fourth quarter.
Artest was signed to a five-year, $34-million contract in July 2009 specifically to shut down players such as Pierce.
Pierce had 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting, including three of five from three-point range Sunday.
"He played really good. He really gave it to me," Artest said. "He gave it to me last year in the regular season too."
In that Game 7 last June, Artest limited Pierce to 18 points on five-for-15 shooting.
But Artest was so askew Sunday that Jackson was asked whether the 12-year veteran got lost on the way to the game.
"No, he was on time. He got lost on the court," Jackson retorted.
Jackson noticed Artest's problems right away against Pierce — "What did he get, nine points right off the bat?" — and Artest never re-entered the game after leaving with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Jackson chose his words carefully when asked about it, cognizant that Artest yelled at him during a practice this month because Jackson continually criticized him to reporters and in front of teammates.
"Ron took a couple shots that I thought were, like, perhaps not in the context of what we were trying to do," Jackson said. "I thought maybe we'd go another direction."
Artest said he was slowed after getting kneed in the right thigh on a first-quarter drive by Shaquille O'Neal.
"I wasn't able to continue to take [Pierce] and be aggressive," Artest said.
Artest, however, wasn't disappointed that Bryant gave the team an "F" grade for its defense against Boston. He took the optimistic approach.
"I got 'F's in elementary school," Artest said, "and I still went to college."
Not much dialogue
Jackson and O'Neal won three championships together as coach and player in the early 2000s, but they haven't spoken often in recent years.
"We haven't talked for a while. I still get a Christmas card from him," Jackson said Sunday.
Anything insightful written on it?
"Merry Christmas," Jackson said dryly.
From his playing days with the New York Knicks to the last few seasons as the Lakers coach, Jackson has often been involved in rivalries with Boston.
Someone asked him before Sunday's game whether he owned anything green. He paused several seconds.
"I don't think I do," he said slowly. "I had a green Mercedes once. I liked it. It was a diesel back in the day. Seventies."
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.