2010 NBA Playoffs: Lakers’ Artest passes another test

Consider for a moment what was at stake as Ron Artest charged through the lane with less than two seconds to go, Thursday night.

Here was a guy who has been much maligned throughout his career.

He’s a head case.

He’s got a temper.

His teams don’t win.

He beat up a fan in the stands.

Then he gets reborn when the Lakers sign him to replace Trevor Ariza, who eventually signed with the Rockets (Artest’s team last season). Artest became the de facto stopper on the favorite to win the NBA championship, without the added pressure of having to contribute offensively.

Los Angeles, a team in a must-win situation last night, was nursing a three-point lead with the shot clock running down. After a missed shot, Pau Gasol grabbed the offensive board and kicked it out to Artest with just under a minute remaining. Instead of milking the shot clock, Artest fired up an ill-advised shot that missed badly.

Uh, oh.

Now the spotlight was back on Artest.

Phil Jackson chewed him out on the sideline. Kobe Bryant was ready to strangle him. Television screens across Los Angeles were shattered by remote controls.

The Lakers could now lose this game, a game in which they held an 18-point lead at one point.

Artest blew it.

LA might now have to win in Phoenix in Game 6, just to get the series to a Game 7. And they have already struggled mightily there in these Western Conference Finals.

Artest, Ariza’s replacement on the roster in 2009-10, still had to prove he belonged on this team. Ariza had his ring with the Lakers and shown he was a viable part of that team in their championship run. You could sense that Ariza was warming up his phone, ready to fire off an I-told-you-so tweet in his Twitter war with Artest’s brother, Daniel.

Then Kobe air-balled a shot and Artest saw his chance. J...

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