Turns out Ron Artest doesn't just have the colorful personality, controversial past, and distinguished on-floor resume.
He apparently possesses a killer sense of timing, too.Eric Gay/AP Photo
Ron Artest and the Lakers were a major force defensively Wednesday night in their win over San Antonio.
Evaluations of the Artest-for-Trevor Ariza "swap" have been a consistent feature in discussions of the Lakers all season, with opinions on the issue often vacillating based on a particular evening's box score. For the record, I was for it then, and would do it again. Others don't agree, and throughout the year have expressed as much on any given day.
Wednesday, for example, Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times re-iterated the position he's held since the Lakers brought Ron Ron in in; it was a mistake, one helping explain the team's flagging performance relative to last season. It was a high profile column generating debate not just in the paper and online, but on talk radio and TV, too.
Is Artest a big reader? Does he watch Around the Horn? I don't know, but in tonight's big 92-83 win over the Spurs in San Antonio, Artest laid down a serious counterpoint. His final line: 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and as it's been over the course of the season- specially when his feet have been healthy- Artest was a game-changer defensively.
The play perhaps most representative of Artest's work came with just over four minutes to play in the third. Tracking Manu Ginobili from the weak side across the court to where he received the ball above the arc, Artest stuck with Manu as the Argentine went away from a Tim Duncan screen and headed for the rim.
He didn't make it.
Artest reached out and poked the ball away from Ginobili, then used his massive size to gain possession and finish at the other end. The two points still left the Lakers one short of catching the Spurs, but was representative of the energy they'd use soon enough to pull ahead for good. And when they did, Artest was at the center of that push, too. Over a four minute stretch in the fourth, Artest generated steals against Antonio McDyess, Duncan, and Matt Bonner, helping push a six-point lead to double digits. He nearly had another one against Roger Mason Jr.
In the third, Artest jumped Richard Jefferson near mid-court to force a turnover and fought through screens in the lane to block George Hill.
The point isn't simply to say Artest was good, or was unbeatable throughout the game (everyone makes mistakes). But the variety of Spurs players against whom Artest was able to cause problems is impressive, literally ranging from their point guard up through the forwards and centers. It's no coincidence the Lakers held San Antonio to 35 second half points as Artest's influence grew.
Over the course of the season, the Lakers have changed their identity on the floor (not necessarily in the larger media, though) from an offensive group to one that succeeds when the defense is stifling. Artest plays a role in both sides of the equation. He has struggled to find continuity and rhythm in the offense, in part because there has been little continuity in the execution around him thanks to injuries and general team disinterest, but is absolutely fundamental to the Lakers' change in character on the other end. Just as it was in the win against Denver on February 28, Artest seemed to rise up tonight and swallow the Spurs.
Nobody can be expected to D up like that for 48 minutes, but when Artest becomes a force, he brings everyone else with him and the Lakers- a very good defensive team last season- become special and potentially overwhelming.
There were other great aspects of tonight's win. Kobe Bryant was brilliant, with 24 points and six assists. He read the floor beautifully, and dominated in an incredibly efficient manner. Pau Gasol was only four-of-11 from the floor, but did excellent work against Duncan, who finished two-of-11. Gasol also had 12 boards and two blocks. Lamar Odom finished with 19/13, and the Lakers benefited from clutch shooting off the bench by Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown.
Lots to like in a very important game, but in the end it was Artest, on a night where his value was under scrutiny, who sent the biggest message.
More to come...