Through all the commotion, through all the criticisms he has faced as a Laker, Ron Artest was able to deliver. The unlikely hero in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals came to none other then Ron Artest.
Memories of Game 6 from the 2006 NBA Playoffs against the Suns started to resurface as the Lakers were unable to grab a rebound after two three-point attempts clanked off the rim. Jason Richardson banked a three pointer that made the Staples Center crowd go in sheer silence. It was almost an identical play of a Tim Thomas go-ahead three pointer that put the game into overtime four years ago. The Lakers would eventually lose the game, as well as the series.
But this is a different time, a different series, and a different Lakers squad. With someone more determined then ever to bring a ring to the Lakers, Ron Artest has provided just that; a difference and heart, something that you won’t see on the stat sheet.
His shooting has been sometimes forgettable, as has his decision making. But, one thing that has never been in question has been the heart, which is that of a warrior. A determined individual that has never given up on any play, or let down on any challenge.
Artest shot a missed 20-footer with 1:02 to play and then missed a three-point attempt with 22 seconds on the shot clock that left fans in the crowd confused and baffled. At the next timeout, Lakers’ Coach Phil Jackson gave Artest an earful and later said he even questioned himself for leaving Artest in the game.
“I don’t know why I left him in the game,” Coach Phil Jackson later admitted. “I actually questioned it myself when I put him out there on the floor, and there he was. Made the key play.”
But, Artest has never let himself down. He has worked hard before and after practices, even going straight to the gym right after games. He has been seen on the court hours before games with no other then the Lakers star Kobe Bryant, causing praise from the Lakers superstar along with much respect.
Asked if it was the biggest shot of his career.
“Biggest layup,” he said. “I missed a lot of layups during the regular season. Now I’m missing jumpers and missing layups, but, you know, staying with it.”
Staying with it is the key term, something that Artest has never come short of doing. Helping his team in anyway he can, Artest has never complained about having to sacrifice much of his game. Just keeping to himself and contributing with any little thing he can. Saying that his sole reason for being in a Lakers uniform is for his defense.
“He sacrificed a lot to help us get to where we’re trying to go,” Derek Fisher said. “That’s why we were so happy for him.”
Even after getting a game winner and putting his team ahead in the Western Conference Finals. Ron Artest was not ready to go celebrate. His brother Daniel Artest posted on his Twitter wall, “And then after the game, he didn’t even party, he went to the gym to workout.”
Even if his sub-par shooting isn’t welcomed, that kind of determination is. That is what will bring a back to back title to Los Angeles.
Some may call it being at the right place at the right time. But, his heart and will, got him to that place.