LOS ANGELES - Ron Artest had to learn to trust himself in the most pressure-packed moments of a game. So often in his career, he’d blow it and get down on himself.
Not this time.
Calmed by the advice of his psychiatrist, Artest proved reliable in crunch time for the Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Boston Celtics 83-79 in Game 7 on Thursday night to win their 16th NBA championship.
Artest had 20 points on 7 of 18 shooting, five steals and five rebounds in the decisive game of his first season with the team.
“Finally I get the ring,” he said, boxed into a corner of the locker room, a champagne haze in the air and members of his family pushing their way toward him.
On a night when Kobe Bryant couldn’t find the basket, the superstar trusted the guy with the reputation for being a flake. Artest hit a huge 3-pointer with a minute to play on an assist from Bryant, keeping the Lakers ahead 79-73.
“He had too much of an impact on the game,” Boston’s Ray Allen said.
Soon, Artest and Bryant were jumping into each other’s arms in celebration, a season after they had tangled on opposite teams in the playoffs.
“Ron Artest was the most valuable player,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He brought life to our team, he brought life to the crowd.”
Artest had a rocky road in previous playoff appearances with other teams over the years. He sought out a psychiatrist to help him relax his often racing mind.
“She would come and help me relax in these moments because usually I’m not good at these moments, and I know that about myself,” he said. “There’s certain things I’m not good at, but I want to be good because I want to win.”
The Lakers signed Artest from Houston during the offseason for his defense. They needed his offense in the last game of the season.
As Bryant floundered, Artest took over in the second quarter, scoring 12 points. He keyed their 11-0 run with six points to open the period, giving the Lakers a two-point lead. His 3-pointer tied the game at 29, then he went 3 of 4 from the line to send the Lakers into halftime trailing 40-34.
“My staff was very strongly encouraging Ron because he was the guy with the open looks to step into his shot, be confident and take the one there in rhythm,” Jackson said of Artest’s tying 3.
When he wasn’t scoring, Artest was most effective in the paint.
“I attacked to the basket instead of just shooting threes,” he said. “Most closeout games I do OK, but sometimes with elimination I don’t play as well and it’s frustrating.”
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