|Kobe Bryant had the upper hand on Rasheed Wallace in the first quarter — and at series end. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)|
Artest a shot in arm
Vet couldn’t pass up chance
LOS ANGELES — Throughout the Finals, Ron Artest declared he wasn’t around for offense. His job wasn’t to score, but last night his baskets proved to be the difference when Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol struggled in Game 7.
Artest got his first NBA championship after contributing 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 steals to the Lakers’ 83-79 victory over the Celtics.
After missing key free throws late in Game 3, Artest took the blame. Last night, Artest got the credit.
The Lakers were down by 3 points when Artest hit a jump shot and was fouled by Paul Pierce with 7:29 to go in the game. Artest converted the free throw to tie the score at 61. He later hit a 3-pointer with 61 seconds left to give the Lakers a 6-point lead (79-73).
Artest was giddy after the game and explained his surprise when Bryant passed him the ball for his pivotal 3-pointer.
“Late in the second half, he started to move the ball and attack and pass and still was Kobe Bryant, and he trusted us and made us feel so good and he passed me the ball,’’ Artest said. “He never passes me the ball, and he passed me the ball. Kobe passed me the ball, and I shot a three.
“He’s a Zen master, 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. I love the Zen, though.’’
While Gasol and Bryant combined for 6 of 26 shooting from the field in the first half, it was Artest who led the way with 12 points. Meanwhile, Artest was keeping pace defensively. Throughout the series he has been responsible for Paul Pierce and last night, Pierce was 5 of 15 from the field with 18 points.
“I’m just so happy for Ron the way he played [last night], the way he played in Game 6, very productive, very aggressive, very confident,’’ Gasol said. “Defensively, I think he did another great job on Paul Pierce, so he’s a huge part of our success.’’
For the 13th time in Jackson’s career, he led his team to the NBA Finals. Jackson, 64, has coached in 323 playoff games, the most in NBA history, and he is 225-98 with his Game 7 victory. But did last night mark his last game as an NBA coach?
“I’ve resisted thinking about that and talking about it for the most part,’’ said Jackson before the game. “It really isn’t important what happens after this, it’s just about this game right now. So I kind of resist those thoughts.’’
Asked if the result of Game 7 would affect a decision to retire, Jackson, who is in the last year of his contract, said.