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Artest is crazy good in Game 7
The official record will reflect that Kobe Bryant was the MVP of the 2010 NBA Finals. But if the Association had opened up the voting to include non-players, it's safe to say that Ron Artest's psychiatrist might have appeared on a ballot or two.
"I definitely want to thank my doctors," Artest told ABC's Doris Burke in the moments after his improbable 20-point, five-rebound, five-steal night had helped the Los Angeles Lakers overcome a horrendous offensive performance, steal an 83-79 Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics and successfully defend their NBA title. "My psychiatrist, she really helped me relax a lot.”
Game 7 was hardly relaxing, particularly for the Lakers and their fans. Not when Bryant was suffering through his worst shooting night of the postseason, clanking away from the field as the Celtics built a 13-point second-half lead.
But just when it appeared as if the Lakers were destined to suffer yet another demoralizing loss at the hands of their hated rivals, the most unstable player on L.A.'s roster somehow provided the stability they needed to survive. Just when the Celtics seemed to have an 18th NBA championship in their grasp, Artest and the Lakers gave them the old Freudian slip.
"She would come and help me relax in these moments because usually I'm not good at these moments," Artest would later say in attempting to explain the therapeutic method behind his madness. "I know that about myself. You know, so what do I do to be good at these moments? You figure it out."
Fortunately for the Lakers, Artest picked the biggest game of the season to have his little breakthrough. And he did so while the rest of his Lakers teammates appeared to be in desperate need of a little therapy themselves.
Whether it was the magnitude of the moment or the ferocity of the Celtics' defense, the Lakers started Game 7 with none of the offensive swagger that characterized their Game 6 play. Bryant shot 1-for-7 in the first quarter, Pau Gasol was only slightly better (2-for-8) and Boston jumped out to a crowd-deflating 23-14 lead.
Not exactly the type of situation where the Lakers typically turn to Artest to rescue them. But that's precisely what happened.
Artest fueled the Lakers' 11-2 run to start the second quarter, scoring six points and notching a pair of steals as L.A. tied the game at 25-25. He would finish the first half as the Lakers' leading scorer, his 12 points accounting for more than a third of his team's scoring while almost single-handedly keeping the Celtics within shouting distance.
But Artest wasn't done, yet.
In the final minute of Thursday's game, with the Celtics having closed back to within three points, Artest found himself wide open behind the three-point stripe. It should have been a familiar feeling for Artest, seeing as how the Celtics had spent much of the series daring him to beat them from the perimeter. This time, however, Artest calmly drained the shot, pushing the Lakers' lead back to six points and all but clinching the title for L.A.
"What a shot, what a shot, what a shot," Artest said, holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. "Oh, man. I forced the issue a lot. You know how you're not supposed to force the issue, stay poised. I always wanted to hit a shot like that. I always wanted to hit a shot like that."
You need only look back to the Western Conference finals to recall how desperately Artest wanted to be a postseason hero. In Game 5 of that series, the Lakers were nursing a three-point lead and had the opportunity to run the clock out on the Suns. But with the entire Staples Center crowd shouting, "No!", Artest bricked a three-point shot that almost cost the Lakers the game.
But Thursday night, there were no dissenting voices to be heard. Not even from Lakers head coach Phil Jackson.
"Ron Artest was the most valuable player tonight," Jackson said. "He brought life to our team, he brought life to the crowd."
"He's a Zen master," Artest said. "So he can speak to you and he doesn't need a microphone. You can hear him in your head. 'Ron, don't shoot. Don't shoot.' Whatever. Pow. Three."
Pow indeed. With all the championship experience on this team, the biggest shot came from a player appearing in his first NBA Finals.
In fact, Artest was the only member of this Lakers team who didn't already have a ring. And if L.A. had failed to win one this time around, Artest – and the controversial decision to bring him in to replace departing free agent Trevor Ariza – would have shouldered much of the blame.
But to his credit, Artest never shrank from that, often claiming that if the Lakers didn't win a championship that the responsibility for that failure should be his and his alone.
"He said it at the beginning," Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said. "He wanted the accountability of us winning a championship. He proved himself time and time again throughout this postseason that he can do the job both offensively and defensively. I'm happy for him."
Artest seemed happy for himself, too. Even if he couldn't quite believe it happened.
"When I was playing, I really couldn't feel where I was at," Artest said. "I couldn't feel where I was at. I couldn't feel the final. I couldn't feel it. I was more in the game and my team and what coach wanted me to do. And when we won, I didn't know we won. I honestly didn't know we won."
You won, Ron. If you don't believe me, just ask your psychiatrist.