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Pacers' forward beats two-time champ Wallace

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ron Artest finally got the type of recognition he says he deserves.

The Indiana forward was the runaway choice for NBA Defensive Player of the Year on Monday, the same day he was suspended for one game for leaving the bench during a confrontation in the Pacers' playoff win over the Boston Celtics.

He received 476 points out of a possible 605, including 80 of
121 first-place votes from a panel of sports writers and
broadcasters.

"I've been doing it behind the scenes since I was a rookie in
Chicago," Artest said. "It's just been behind the scenes. People
know I'm coming out to stop them and it hasn't changed since."

Two-time defensive player of the year winner Ben Wallace of
Detroit finished second, and Portland's Theo Ratliff was third.

Artest was chafed when he finished second to Wallace last
season, partially because of his reputation as a loose cannon. He
was suspended five times for a total of 12 games last season and
fined repeatedly for flagrant fouls and emotional outbursts.

This year, Artest has shown a maturity and poise that was sorely
lacking in the past. Not coincidentally, the Pacers won an NBA-best
61 games in the regular season.

Always drawing the opposing team's best perimeter scorer, Artest
finished third in the league with 2.08 steals a game.

The 6-foot-7, 246-pound Artest uses his fullback's build to
muscle opponents and his quick feet to keep them in front of him.

"I've played against two of the best in Joe Dumars and Michael
Cooper, and Ron has those guys blown away," teammate Reggie Miller
said. "That combination of strength and speed, that's a hard match
for anybody."

Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic agreed, saying Artest and San
Antonio's Bruce Bowen, who finished fourth in the voting, were the
two toughest defenders he faces.

Artest credited his teammates for the award, particularly fellow
All-Star Jermaine O'Neal.

"If guys like Paul Pierce or Kobe (Bryant) happen to get by me,
he's always going get my back," Artest said. "We're the defensive
team of the year."

He can also thank coach Rick Carlisle and his staff for
conducting an exhaustive campaign. Carlisle made personal phone
calls to voting members and had two assistants break down film of
Artest's 8,000 defensive possessions to give him quantifiable
statistics to make his case.

Carlisle said Artest held opponents to 9.4 shots and 8.1 points
a game when he was matched up one-on-one.

"It was mind boggling that he had that kind of impact,"
Carlisle said. "You know it's going to be tough to score, but it
may be even tougher just to get the ball."

What separates Artest from past winners like Wallace and Dennis
Rodman is his ability on offense. The team's second-leading scorer
averaged a career-high 18.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists
this year.

Artest will miss Game 2 of the Pacers' series against Boston on
Tuesday night after playing a pivotal role in their 104-88 win in
Game 1.

He scored 24 points and also shut down Paul Pierce in the final
three quarters of the game.

Even Pacers' president and basketball Hall of Famer Larry Bird
marvels at Artest's versatility.

"He's big and he's strong. His quickness laterally puts you
into a position you don't want to get, but I wouldn't mind taking a
shot at him -- 20 years ago," Bird cracked.

Never one to worry too much about his performance on the
defensive end, Bird didn't hesitate when asked what would have
happened on the other end.

"He would have got his 30," Bird said with a smile.