Artest and Odom becoming liabilities
Two pivotal players for the Lakers are costing their team crucial victories
BOSTON -- Two years ago, Ron Artest walked into the locker room at TD Garden and promised things would be different if he were on the Lakers. He told Lamar Odom in the hallway, Brian Shaw in the training room and, most memorably, Kobe Bryant in the shower.
He told them all he wanted to join the Lakers to help them win a championship and beat the Celtics.
As Artest sat in the same locker room Sunday, one of the first players dressed after the Celtics beat the Lakers 92-86 to take a 3-2 series lead in the NBA Finals, he thought he had partially fulfilled his promise.
"I thought we played pretty well," said Artest, who had seven points on 2-of-9 shooting and two rebounds. "The games that we lost here, they were close. It wasn't like a couple years ago where the game was a blowout. We played good. We played tough on the road. We played some competitive games."[+] EnlargeBrian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesRon Artest wants nothing more than to win a championship but must realize he's becoming part of the Lakers' problems, not a solution.
Artest is known to be a little out there, but if he thought the Lakers played well Sunday and actually took solace in playing "competitive" games in Boston rather than getting a win in Game 5, he has gone completely off the deep end.
While reporters surrounded his locker, Artest sat in silence and perused the postgame stat sheet. He dragged his finger across Bryant's 38-point line and looked at the other numbers on the page before putting it down and looking up.
"No matter what it says on this stat sheet, we did it together," Artest said. "We did all this together."
That's true, but unfortunately for the Lakers, Artest and his frontcourt teammates didn't add much to the collective total, and their absence is a big reason the Lakers are now one loss from losing to the Celtics in the Finals again.
Beside Artest's seven points, Odom came off the bench and added eight points, while Pau Gasol had 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting (one of his worst games as a Laker).
It was understandable that Andrew Bynum (who continues to play through a torn meniscus in his right knee) struggled, adding only six points and one rebound to the mix, but the Lakers needed to get much more from Artest, Odom and Gasol to have any chance of defeating the Celtics in Game 5.
Despite shooting 39.7 percent from the field and having only a single player on the roster score in double digits until late in the fourth quarter, the Lakers still had a chance to cut the Celtics' lead to three points and make it a one-possession game with 43 seconds left when Artest was fouled on a breakaway layup by Paul Pierce. Artest, however, proceeded to miss both free throws, and Pierce's pass to Rajon Rondo for a layup on the other end of the court moments later sealed the game.
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"We could have won tonight before I missed those two free throws and didn't give a chance to let Kobe do what he do," said Artest, who hit only one of four free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. "That was a backbreaker."
On a night when Bryant took the team on his back, scoring 23 straight points during a stretch from the first half to the second half, he didn't ask his teammates to do much. Apparently making a free throw here or there, or getting a defensive stop now and then was too much to ask.
"When Kobe gets hot like that, then he's hot like that," said Odom, who was invisible through three quarters before scoring six points and adding five rebounds in the fourth quarter. "You can't deny it. We just needed to get stops as a team and we weren't able to do that."
Odom's inconsistency and apathetic demeanor are often focal points when the Lakers lose, because he is a bellwether. When the Lakers look like a well-oiled machine, Odom's stat line shows it. When the Lakers look broken down and out of sync, as they did at crucial times Sunday, Odom's stat line reflects that as well. Odom realizes this but disagrees with anyone who wants to say he doesn't care enough to give it his all every night.
"When we lose a game in November, I'm pissed off," he said. "If we played checkers and I lose, I'm pissed off. If we played a game on PlayStation or Xbox and I lose, I want to play you again. I'm always upset when we lose, but I can't hold on to it that long because we have a game we have to win on Tuesday. I have to put things behind me. Win or lose in the playoffs, I have to move on."
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When Odom was asked how a team as experienced and playoff-savvy as Los Angeles could have as many mental lapses as it did Sunday, repeatedly allowing the Celtics easy layups and open looks, the New York Yankees fan and Boston agitator in him came out.
"It happens," he said. "This is sports. Ask [Bill] Buckner."
Maybe, but Buckner probably isn't the best sports figure to be aligning yourself with heading into a crucial Game 6.
"It's not over," Odom said as he left the locker room. "It's their third win, so it's not like the trophy is theirs. They have to take it on our home court. We're ready to go home and do what we have to do on our home court."
No, it's not over. But to keep the series alive, what Odom, Artest and Gasol "have to do" is a whole lot more than what they did in Boston on Sunday.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ArashMarkazi.
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