It was Hagler/Hearns out there. Pittsburgh vs Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game. And even though nobody got stabbed with a table leg, Ron Artest found himself right at home amidst the chaos.
In the biggest game of his life, Artest was the best basketball player on the court. Two games after Laker fans were openly pining for the good ol' days of Trevor Ariza, Ron Ron proved he belonged here on the game's biggest stage.
And the Lakers really needed him, too. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol wilted under the intense pressure. Derek Fisher was hobbled. And Boston played an absolutely perfect first half of basketball, text book defense that had the defending champs completely stymied for the first 24 minutes.
If you missed the game and relied on the box score to provide your context, you'd notice that Pau and Kobe had 19 and 15 rebounds, respectively. You might think to yourself, "Hey, they played pretty well." No, they played like dog shit, both of them. They were tighter than a nun's vagina. The reason LA won that game was Ron Artest.
The refs basically swallowed their whistles for the first three quarters. "Let 'em play" was a major understatement. "No blood, no foul" was more like it. This state of anarchy had a soothing effect on Artest. Finally free of foul trouble, he just relaxed and played his game.
Plenty of people criticized LA for signing Artest this offseason. He was viewed as too volatile, too much of a wild card. It's strangely ironic that he'd win them a title in the wildest, most volatile game of the season.
In his post-game press conference, a wide-eyed Artest continued to amaze, expressing delight and surprise that alpha-male Bryant actually trusted him to take and make those big shots.
"Kobe passed me the ball! He never passes me the ball!"
Yes, he did, Ron. Yes, he did.
And even though Bryant took home the award for series MVP, it was Ron everyone was talking about well after the game concluded. It was Ron with a +40 for the series, best on the team. It was Ron that ripped that key rebound away from Glen Davis. It was Ron that scored that clutch and-one in the 4th. It was Ron that held Pierce to 5-15. And it's Ron that Boston will be seeing in their sleep for the next four months.
As Queensbridge's own Mobb Deep might say "Survival of the fit, only the strong survive."
Pictured: true warrior