LOS ANGELES -- Granted, the tens of thousands who showed up at Staples Center last night, and the millions more around the globe who tuned in to the game, did not do so to see the world's best refs doing their thing. Still reffing is what they got -- whistle upon glorious whistle, early and late and debatable and downright specious. And predictably, much of the discussion after the Lakers' 102-89 win centered on all the foul calls, and rightly so, but there is only so much that can be said. As
So, instead the focus moves to
But then the strangest thing happened: Ron calmed down. And for the next 47 minutes -- or at least the 32 and change he was in the game -- he was remarkably in control, at least by Artest-ian standards. He resisted the urge to "create" on offense, long his Achilles' heel. On defense, he likewise resisted the urge to gamble for steals, instead staying with Pierce, whom he hectored relentlessly. Sure, there was that crazy fast break where he threw the ball in the general direction of the rim and missed entirely, and he got in early foul trouble, but all in all, this was not just the Good Ron Artest, but perhaps the best version. For the game, his plus/minus was +26, by far the highest of any player (Bryant, by comparison, was +6), and he finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, hitting 3-of-5 three-pointers, with two steals and no turnovers. Afterward, he was praised by everyone from
But it was the two empathic hugs from Bryant that spoke the loudest, one not long after Artest blocked Davis' shot in the fourth quarter and another at the end of the game.
The beauty, however, was in the details. Like early in the first quarter, when Artest drained his first three-pointer from the top of the key. Without dribbling. Or forcing it. Same was true of most of his possessions. If you watched Artest on offense, you saw a guy who did one of three things: 1) made an entry pass and cleared out to the other wing to wait in the corner, spotting up 2) took an open shot without screwing around with the ball or 3) grabbed the ball and immediately relinquished it to a player better-suited to doing something with it. Now, if you've spent much time watching Artest, you know how important this was, because he can get into all kinds of trouble when he starts driving. Or shooting off the dribble. But, on this night, he stayed within the offense and, when he did shoot a three-pointer on the move, at the end of the third quarter, it might have appeared to be a bad shot except for two things. First, it allowed the Lakers a 2-for-1 opportunity and, vastly more important, he hit it.
On defense, in a game overflowing with touch fouls, Artest managed to body Pierce without fouling out. He bumped, hip-checked and, at all times, kept a hand within smacking distance. Even when another Celtic drove, Artest stayed on the perimeter. And when Pierce twice tried to create fouls -- first bringing his arms up, ala
With Artest, of course, the question is how long will this disciplined approach continue? Through Game 2? The whole series? Who knows but Lakers fans will no doubt appreciate it as long at it lasts. And so, I might add, will Artest. Afterward, as affable as ever, he entertained a throng of media. He talked about how he bought tickets for two fans courtside (at $9,000 a pop, a price he says was nearly double from last season), and rated his defense as "decent" and, when someone asked if he was impressed that his team could frustrate the Celtics because