Lakers forward Ron Artest finding his game at last
The Western Conference finals ended, as did Ron Artest’s wildly unpredictable two-game swing.
The Lakers forward scored 25 points in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, adding to an already memorable 48-hour period.
He was practically booed off the court Thursday in Game 5 before scoring the winning basket on a last-second follow shot, and he helped push the Lakers to a series-clinching 111-103 victory Saturday over the Phoenix Suns.
He made 10 of 16 shots in Game 6, four of seven from three-point range, and also had three steals, including one in which he picked clean Channing Frye under the Lakers’ basket and scored on a left-handed layup.
“The basketball gods were on his side,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
The entire series was a new challenge for Artest, assigned to cover a shooting guard, Jason Richardson, from end to end in one of the NBA’s most high-octane offenses.
Artest received enthusiastic approval for his work on Kevin Durant in the Lakers’ six-game first-round victory over Oklahoma City, holding the MVP runner-up to 25 points a game on 35% shooting, but Richardson was a tough assignment for a bulky small forward.
Richardson averaged 21.9 points through the first two rounds and was down to 16.8 a game in the conference finals coming into Game 6. He had 13 points Saturday on three-for-seven shooting.
“It’s a tough matchup for [Artest],” Jackson said. “He’s done a good job but it’s not been easy. Richardson was their leading scorer coming in and shooting 52%, so he’s obviously had some effect on him.”
Artest will now get Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who picked apart the Lakers two years ago in winning the Finals MVP award.
Jackson and Artest had their issues in Game 5 Thursday, the coach obviously irritated by Artest’s missed three-point shot only two seconds into the 24-second clock with the Lakers holding a three-point edge with 58 seconds to play.
They then had what Jackson called a “discussion” in the locker room after the game, Artest trying to defend his thought process.
“It wasn’t heated,” Jackson said Saturday. “He was confused.”
Jackson and Artest didn’t avoid each other in Game 6. Jackson was angry at Artest after Richardson scored on a five-foot runner in the first quarter, the coach shaking his head and yelling at Artest during a timeout.
But Artest was mainly accurate and effective on offense Saturday.
“Ron was spectacular for us tonight,” guard Derek Fisher said.
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