Queensbridge should be proud.
With Kobe and nearly every other Laker struggling mightily in Game 7, due in part to the Celtics terrific, shut-down defense, the Lakeshow did not appear like they were going to exact their revenge on nearly the same Celtics team that had embarrassed them two years prior with not only a 4-2 series win, but a 39-point victory in Game 6.
Los Angeles needed an answer and it needed it fast. Surely there was someone on this team who could provide the spark necessary that would give the Lakers the needed motivation to win their 16th championship. If it wasn't going to come from Kobe or Gasol, one of the other role players needed to step up.
As it turns out, that player was Ron Artest. The man from Queensbridge, New York led the Lakers with 14 points in the opening half of Game 7 and come the fourth quarter made his hometown proud.
Artest's three offensive rebounds in the game were crucial, as the Lakers out rebounded Boston on the offensive glass by an absurd 23-8 margin.
But it was his play in the final two minutes that was most important. With the Lakers holding onto a small margin, thanks in part to Artest's hounding defense on Pierce (who struggled and finished with 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting), the ball went into the hands of Artest, who was a good foot beyond the 3-point line.
Keep in mind that Artest is a sub par 3-point shooter. He was 1-for-6 from beyond the arc prior to the score being 76-73. When Bryant passed it to Artest, he was giving him confidence and motivation—the motivation that one of the most clutch performer's in NBA history can give when he lets others shine at a time when he is supposed to take over.
Bryant, who was shooting 6-of-23 at the time, gave it up to Artest. And Artest, who had struggled with his shot for five of the previous six games, was the one who had the NBA Finals in his hands.
From 28 feet, Artest, who many Laker fans did not want over Trevor Ariza, secured the 16th championship for the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. His 3-pointer made it a six-point game with a minute left and a few free throws later the Lakers had not only repeated, but had exacted revenge on the Celtics.
The team that had tormented them for two years—the Lakers remember very well the raucous Boston fans who had pelted their team bus with insults on the ride out—was vanquished in a glorious comeback.
On some nights, the NBA Finals was the Kobe Bryant show—say Game 1 when he led his Los Angeles Lakers to a 102-89 win with 30 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
Since Shaquille O'Neal left the team in Kobe's hands, he has become the leader that Los Angeles and Phil Jackson thought he could be. For the first six games of this epic series, Kobe was the leader and knew that he had to perform at his peak if the Lakers wanted to see and win Game 7.
If Kobe was not performing up to standard, than Pau Gasol would step in and steal the show. His length and versatility gave the Celtics fits and even made former Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett look foolish at times. Gasol was the big man that Bryant was pining for since O'Neal left, and they now have two championships to show for it.
Seventh games are where legends and memories are created, where we truly see who has the heart of a champion and who has the composure to have only one goal in mind and not focus on any negative's or any outside forces that could affect those with a weak constitution.
This was the time for both teams to show who truly was the best team in basketball, and the time for players to step up. In the end, it was the much maligned Artest who was the most important player on the game's biggest stage.
Prior to the 2009-2010 campaign, a number of moves were made by the Lakers staff that were thought to benefit the team.They allowed their young, developing star, Trevor Ariza, to go to the Houston Rockets. In return the Lakers signed Artest to be their defensive specialist.
There is only so much that could be said about Artest's legacy in the NBA and what he is most remembered for: running into the stands of The Palace at Auburn Hills and punching out Detroit Pistons fans.
During the regular season, Artest was a man possessed on defense. He was a lock-down defender and when he had to guard an opposing player, he knew exactly what to do. As far as offense goes, he was mostly an afterthought who averaged 11 points per game.
His game high on the season was 22 points and 25 points in the postseason during Game 6 against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
As for the series against the Celtics, he was dominant on the defensive side. His defense on Paul Pierce was astounding, as he held the Celtics star to less than 20 points in five of the seven games while allowing him to shoot a limited number of free throws.
On offense though, aside from his 15 points in Game 1, Artest couldn't hit the ocean if he was in a boat. He was just as offensively effective as the suited Adam Morrison, going a combined 14-for-44 from Game 2 to 6.
When it came down to Game 7, however, the Celtics knew who they had to guard, and that was Bryant and Gasol. Bryant was constantly double-teamed and Gasol was hounded by any big man the Celtics could throw at him. Derek Fisher came up lame in the third quarter and Andrew Bynum was ineffective due to a recurring injury.
The bench wasn't as helpful, as Lamar Odom was the only player to come off the bench and score aside from Sasha Vujacic's late free throws. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown were ineffective when the Lakers needed them most.
The Lakers badly needed someone to step up, particularly in a first half where they couldn't buy a bucket. Without Artest's offensive performance, they likely would have been down double digits going into the half and might have never got back into the game. But Artest made big plays on both sides of the ball all night, proving that the Lakers made the right choice in grabbing him and jettisoning Ariza.
Artest was a Sacramento King at the time of the last Lakers-Celtics finals. But he was a Laker more than ever in Game 7. He finished off what Bryant had been pushing towards for two years now.
Redemption belonged to Kobe, an 11th ring belonged to Phil, and a 16th championship belonged to the franchise. But what Artest received was a new image—as a champion and key performer when it mattered most.