As one would expect, El Segundo's man of the hour was Ron Artest, he of the offensive rebound and layup heard 'round the world. One hell of a redemptive effort for Ron-Ron, who'd put his team in a pickle-pickle with two horrible late-game shots within seconds of each other. Still, things turned out fantastic, and it would be understandable if Artest spent the night basking in the afterglow. Maybe an impromptu night out with friends. A celebratory glass of bubbly at home. Hell, just sitting in bed watching SportsCenter highlights on a loop.
Turns out Artest commemorated the achievement with a late night workout. There wasn't even a TV on at the gym so he could admire his handiwork while getting a sweat.
"The lights was out," smiled Artest. "They was trying to kick me out."
Artest has talked all season about staying in the moment. Letting games go, win or lose, and being satisfied if he simply played hard. This is no exception. He downplayed the shot as luck and ugly. ("I freakin' got the ball over my head. No form, and just threw it up off the backboard.") He gave all the credit to Kobe Bryant for drawing attention so he'd have a path to the ball. And while Artest enjoyed celebrating with his teammates, the initial urge was to make a beeline off the court and away from the hoopla.
"If it was up to me, I would have just gone into the locker room."
As for going from "the outhouse to the penthouse," as veteran reporter Jim Hill phrased it, if those mistakes led to residence by a toilet, Artest could have lived with it.
"I don't mind being in the outhouse. I don't mind the goat. I don't mind being the villain. Hated. I've been that my whole career. So it's not like it wouldn't be anything new. I don't mind people jumping on the bandwagon, jumping off."
In truth, I think Artest does care what people think. A lot.
He's gone out of his way to engage fans and put on a good public face. He's been extremely cooperative --if sometimes a little loopy-- with the media. By all accounts he's been a great teammate, overly eager to please. Plus, dude plays his ass off on every possession. Yes, that's part of being a professional on a title chase and I'm not saying the behavior is disingenuous. But I also think Ron sees this time with the Lakers as a way of putting a bad image behind him once and for all.
Moments like Game 5's mean the world to Artest. He even admitted to wishing he could drink in the feeling. But he's also all too aware of the danger that accompanies getting overly emotional as a player or person. Thus, the constant effort to an even keel, and if that means denying himself pleasure, it's the cost of doing business.
Then again, it's tough playing the hero when you feel like the the NBA's Rodney Dangerfield. In addition to taking Steve Nash's postgame assurance of a future Game 7 as "disrespect" to the Lakers, Artest thinks the Suns are game-planning in a way that specifically disrespects him.
"They don't respect me. They want me to play out of character and start jacking all these crazy shots and not look to pass to Pau. They're trying to not respect me to try and win the game. Coach Alvin Gentry, he don't respect me. A lot of guys don't respect me. I think there will come a point and time where I earn some respect. But I'll wait, you know. I'm not rushing."
As you can see, the "D" word got tossed around like it was going out of style.
You'll forgive Phil Jackson if he's less than sympathetic to Ron's plight. Putting aside how we're not even 24 hours removed from Artest jacking up the textbook definition of crazy shots, PJ believes this is a legit issue for Ron. He even let Artest know that's exactly how the Lakers approached him during last year's playoffs as a member of the Rockets. Despite the warnings, PJ said Ron has "room for improvement" when it comes to not taking the bait.
How best to get reach Ron? Who knows? Phil admitted he "certainly can't" explain Artest and has enlisted Lamar Odom to take on the role of "guardian" for his longtime New York buddy. Soliciting help from the teammate who knows Artest best makes sense, but given Lamar's famous bouts with inconsistency and brain cramps, PJ isn't oblivious to this approach's inherent flaws.
"We've got, not the blind leading the blind, but probably the deaf leading the blind."
Speaking of big shots, the Laker Nation has grown accustomed to Kobe's heroics in the last second. That ability to come up huge with a game on the line. This season has been no exception, and he's playing at an absolutely silly level during this series. But on two occasions during the postseason, he's had a miss put back by a teammate: Pau Gasol against Oklahoma City, then Artest on Thursday. It's always significant to me whenever Kobe gets a crunch time lift from the supporting cast, so I asked Gasol what it means to him:
"We all have a great desire to win. We all have faith and trust in Kobe's ability to finish out games. But you still gotta count on a possible error and pursue the ball and try to stay with it. Give yourself a chance to put it back or make a play... We have, I think, a really good team and we all understand that. We're all veteran enough to know what options and what can happen out there."
Derek Fisher talked about Jackson's knack for coaching teams with players able hit big shots:
Phil tends to remember more shots that refused to fall. Robert Horry's three-pointer that rimmed out against San Antonio in the 2003 Western Conference Semi-Finals Game 6, for example. Still, Jackson realizes how these shots are "50/50 chances," and he's fortunately been on the "stronger end of the 50 percent."