BOSTON, (Reuters) – Ron Artest is adamant he does not need a breakout game to prove his worth to the Los Angeles Lakers as long as he helps provide them with a championship.
The mercurial Lakers forward is averaging eight points a game in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics and is shooting an anemic 32 percent from the floor.
“We won on the road and I had two points,” Artest said yesterday. “I don’t need a big game offensively. We just need to win. You can have a breakout game and still lose.
“It’s happened a lot this year in the playoffs. Guys score 20 and lose, right? It depends who you want on your team. Do you want a superstar who does commercials and lose? Or do you want somebody that helps you win?”
The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2 with Game Five set for today at the Boston Garden. The Staples Center in Los Angeles will host Game Six and, if necessary, Game Seven.
While defense is Artest’s specialty, few people expected the 30-year-old, 11-year NBA veteran to reach double figures in scoring just once through the first four games.
Artest joined the defending champion Lakers this year, his fifth NBA club, but he has never played with such talented team mates.
“Ron deserves to be on a championship team,” said Lakers veteran guard Derek Fisher. “That’s one of the reasons that we want to finish this thing off.”
Many people perceive Artest as a temperamental yet supremely talented player who sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him.
As a member of the Indianapolis Pacers he was suspended for 73 games in 2004 after going into the stands to confront rowdy fans following an on-court brawl with the Detroit Pistons.
Fisher said painting Artest with a broad brush is unfortunate.
“We’re all largely misunderstood by people who don’t know us,” he said. “You don’t know Ron until you know him and we found Ron to be a great team mate and a guy that has made as much or more of a sacrifice as anybody on our team this season in terms of trying to fit into the big picture.
“He’s helped put us in a position where we’re two wins away from winning the title. For a lot of years, people thought any team that Ron is on doesn’t have a chance to win because he’s going to mess it up.
“If anything he’s done a great job in helping to put us in this position.”
Artest, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, averaged a career low 11 points during the regular season and that number has shrunk during the Finals.
Normally a good long-range shooter, he has hit only four of 14 shots beyond that arc. While Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Artest has done other things well against the Celtics, he is looking for some more offense.
“He just has to find a shot and get consistent with it,” he told reporters.