The text messages came fast and furious.
They ranged from those beautiful in their simplicity (“RON!”) to those delightful for their playfulness (“I think Ron has a bonus built into his deal if he can get Phil Jackson’s head to explode”).
Great though they all were, of the near two-dozen messages I received within minutes of Ron Artest’s game-winning put back lay-in that seal Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, none seemed more appropriate than that referencing Vince Vaughn’s immortal line from the end of the comedy classic “Anchorman”.
“Today”, the message read as it echoed Wes Mantooth, “we spell ‘redemption’… R-O-N.” Nothing sums the night up better.
How quickly Artest went from scapegoat to playoff hero is astonishing, but maybe its not exactly as surprising as it appears at first glance. There is no player in the NBA more mercurial, more unpredictable than Ron Artest.
That he might take one of the least intelligent shots possible – an unnecessary three at the start of a fresh shot clock – when the Lakers had no rebounders and were trying desperately to bleed out the clock is not that odd.
Artest is anything but prudent, and his decision-making almost never accounts for game situation, time or score. He is a player who thrives off emotion, off raw enthusiasm; to stop and analyze his next move is not something Ron Artest has ever done. Even if the entire Staples Center crowd collectively yet out an audible “NO!” even before he rose up for the three.
Likewise it should not be a surprise that he would recover a few moments later in the form of the biggest rebound and shot of his career to date. Artest’s whole career, really his whole life, is about perceiving and doing the unexpected in both tremendously positive and negative ways.
This is just the latest example.
To those who might suggest that Artest’s putback was nothing but a lucky shot, I do not disagree, but would point out the improbable nature of Jason Richardson’s banked three the play before that tied the game for Phoenix, and say that one lucky shot deserves another.
That is not to cast doubt on the quality of the Suns performance Thursday night. Phoenix showed incredible effort down the stretch and proved just how irrepressible their spirit is as a squad.
Down by as many as 18, the Suns showed a level of grit and of confidence that should make their followers proud. Steve Nash in particular was ‘next-world’ great in this contest. By pouring in 29 points and 11 assists, Nash did everything he could to push his team over the top as he hit dazzling pull-ups over Pau Gasol and created easy baskets for his teammates for the entire last six minutes of the game. In fact, Nash was so good, and spoke so calmly after the game, that I would be very surprised if he doesn’t have his teammates ready to hold serve to go out and win Game 6 Saturday night.
They very well might have won Game 5 had it not been for Richardson’s lack of a box-out fresh off that game-tying three.
It might seem harsh to apply blame specifically to him given that he hit that massive shot just a play earlier, but it was nonetheless his responsibility to contain Artest on the glass, which he did not. Nash and Grant Hill could not have played better defense against Kobe Bryant. If you are able to successfully cause Bryant to take as low a percentage shot as they did, you simply cannot forget to get a body on the biggest, heaviest small forward in basketball.
As for Bryant, what more can you say about him at this point. He had 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists on Thursday, bringing his averages for the series to a head-shakingly awesome 33ppg, 9.6apg, 7.4rbg on 53.5% shooting from the field. It would appear that he is not quite ready to relinquish his role as “Greatest Player Alive” to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, and is doing his darndest to remind everyone that very few players ever have played as well when the lights are their brightest.
Artest’s memorable heroics, Lamar Odom’s quiet excellence (17 points and 11 rebounds in Game 5) and Bryant’s calculated brilliance aside, this is a game the Lakers need to celebrate quickly and then leave it in Los Angeles where it belongs. These Suns pose too great a threat to believe for a second that they will roll-off after losing this way.
Los Angeles may have kept its pace as the only team that hasn’t trailed in a series at any time this spring, but they will need more than just last-second redemption to putt Phoenix away.
In the meantime I’ll be here, rewinding the video of Craig Sager saying “Queensbridge” and being thankful we ended up with “Good Ron” in Game 5.