Tweet This: Artest Comes Up Big in Lakers' Game 3 Win at Utah
SALT LAKE CITY - Maybe he'll never change.
Maybe Ron Artest will always have to swim in the surreal, to be at the center of controversy both real and contrived that somehow fuels him as a player and a person.
It's been that way since his Chicago days, when such occurrences were so common that local scribe Sam Smith once interviewed a sports psychologist to help make sense of it all. The conclusion: some people like Artest -- who were born and bred on the Queensbridge, N.Y., streets that are some of the roughest and meanest this country has -- must be surrounded by chaos to feel comfortable.
And as he showed in a breakout 20-point outing that helped the Lakers take a 3-0 lead over Utah Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena, he's at his best when the wind swirls around him.
Not that this was the first time he'd taken on a legend. He broke Michael Jordan's ribs in a pickup game in 2001, if you remember, in large part because he felt slighted by the trash talk coming his way. He went at Kobe Bryant while with Houston in last year's playoffs, looking primed to chew on his neck after another alleged instance of disrespect.
The Phil Jackson Twitter saga leading into the Lakers' 111-110 win was mild by comparison, but it wasn't the laughable entertainment that Kobe Bryant made it out to be afterward either. Artest vented his frustrations about the Lakers coach's frequent criticism of his sub-par three-point shooting via the social media site, and eyebrows were certainly raised that the newest guy on this block would take on the local legend in such a way.
Artest then proceeded to answer Jackson's call, hitting 7 of 13 shots overall and four of seven threes against the Jazz that were almost all of the backbreaking variety. Just as Artest had said he hoped Jackson would "close his yapper," the sellout crowd of 19,911 went quiet time and again during a third quarter in which he hit three shots from beyond the arc that all either tied the game or gave the Lakers the lead.
Mixed with Kobe Bryant's latest ice-in-the-veins outing (35 points, nine in the fourth quarter) and an equally-clutch 20-point performance from less-than-beloved former Jazz guard Derek Fisher (20 points), the Lakers -- like the Phoenix Suns before them -- moved into the playoff territory from which no opponent has ever recovered. Artest survived a late mishap, as his sideline inbounds pass with four seconds left and the Lakers up by one was picked off by Kyle Korver when Fisher couldn't break free from Wesley Matthews. After a timeout, Deron Williams (28 points, nine assists, four turnovers) crossed over on Artest but misfired from atop the key, and Matthews' tip just before the buzzer rimmed out.
Yet both before and afterward, the unsolved mystery that took place in between the late-night Tweeting and the latest game was solved. True to Ron-Ron form, it was nothing short of strange.
Jackson revealed before tipoff that Artest's late appearance at Thursday's practice was the real culprit here, that he had attended a funeral of a friend without notifying the team and was subsequently punished by Jackson with both a fine and a tongue-lashing.
"I'd been a little animated the day before at practice, and I think I stirred the mix, so to speak," Jackson said. "I kind of understood where he might have had some difficulty that day. He had a funeral he attended earlier in the morning that kind of disrupted our practice, so I was hard on him about that."
Not until afterward would the identity of the deceased be discussed. According to Artest -- who spoke to a small group of reporters in the tunnel after his time with Bryant in front of the national networks -- he attended the funeral of Peter Lopez. The prominent lawyer whose clients included the late Michael Jackson as well as Artest's friend and singer on his Tru Warier label, Shin Shin, was found dead April 30 in what was found to be a suicide. At 10 a.m. Thursday morning, Artest was paying his respects at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica instead of preparing for the Jazz at the Lakers' practice facility.
"It was almost like one of your best friends all of a sudden just dying," Artest said.
Asked if he thought the Lakers should have been more understanding to the circumstances, Artest didn't agree.
"No, it wasn't about that," said Artest, who was 35.5 percent from three-point range during the regular season but had hit just 7 of 42 (16.6 percent) in eight playoff games entering play. "I didn't tell nobody what happened. I told a couple of my teammates. It was bothering me, so I just went to pay my respects to him and the family. But it's something that's going to probably stick with me for a while."
Meanwhile, the Lakers had better hope this digital feud between Artest and his coach is a thing of the past. He can only operate in this space for so long, with the temporary payoff almost always followed by a negative backlash if the latest situation isn't contained. It certainly seemed to be in hand afterward, when Artest insisted there wouldn't be a re-tweet affair.
"I made my (Twitter) statements; I stand behind my statements, but now, I feel like we're one (as a team)," he said. "And it showed tonight. I came out and did what I had to do in the third (quarter), did a little bit in the fourth, then Kobe stepped up, Fish (Derek Fisher) stepped up, and we did what he had to do.
"I do everything that Phil tells me. That's it. We never, ever, ever, ever had an issue. I was just getting used to his coaching style. And I love his coaching style. And I'd rather be coached under his style than any other style. It's a thing where I'm the new guy, so I have to adjust. And I love being here, I love that new challenge of adjusting to new characters, personalities, schemes, and things like that."
The Lakers, quite clearly, are still adjusting too.
"It wasn't nothing to harp on," Lakers guard Shannon Brown said. "It is his first year, and coach is one of those guys who likes to see what you do under pressure, how you react under pressure. We've got him under our wing. He's going to be fine."
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