- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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They have and they haven't.
After finishing the season with a 27-14 flourish after acquiring Artest, Sacramento shocked us all -- San Antonio included -- when it slinked back to the visitors' locker room with a 34-point halftime deficit in Game 1 against the Spurs.
Then came the non-surprise.
The second half was exceedingly rough, and Artest -- with a backdrop of loud told-you-sos back in Indianapolis -- was especially chippy.
When a game gets out of hand, history says that Artest will soon follow ... and the forearm he landed on Ginobili in the third quarter of San Antonio's 122-88 romp was not the first swipe Artest took in the quarter. There was also a clip to the back of Tim Duncan's head before that and a takedown of Tony Parker.
So you can't be too surprised that Artest was hit with a one-game suspension Monday. Artest's new supporters in Sactown undoubtedly will wail about Ron-Ron being punished only because he's Ron-Ron and point out that he hasn't flirted with any serious trouble since becoming a King in late January, but not me. This was a classic case of Artest, a great front-runner but not so great when his team is unraveling, beginning that second half in a retaliatory mood.
It's fairly evident that the league office wants to take a strong stance on disciplinary matters from the start of the playoffs, as confirmed by the one-game suspension Miami's Udonis Haslem also received Monday for firing his mouthpiece at referee Joey Crawford in the Heat's Game 1 victory over Chicago on Monday.
In Artest's case, though, this was about more than message-sending. The rules clearly state that intentional contact above the shoulders will result in a one-game suspension. For anyone.
Deliberate contact above the shoulders in a 30-point game?
That pretty much seals the deal. Whatever your name and history is.
The league undoubtedly deemed Artest's hit to be a cheap shot -- after an earlier cheap shot -- that left them no choice, even though Ginobili wasn't injured and even though the encounter didn't escalate into something bigger.
The angry Kings and their loyal subjects believe that Artest, because of his history, gets less leeway than anyone else in the game. And they're right.
But there's a difference between the elbow Artest took from Ginobili on the game's opening possession, which required three stitches to close a cut on Artest's lip, and the third-quarter extracurriculars. The league deemed Ginobili's elbow to be unintentional.
In spite of all of the above, I'm holding off on the Same Ol' Artest analysis. He's been too good for the Kings until now to be written off this quickly.
I can't pretend to tell you, furthermore, that I have a conclusive feel for how he'll respond from here.
Who knows? Maybe, in a weird way, this makes the Kings even more dangerous in Game 2. They've sure got nothing to lose now on Tuesday night and are bound to play looser.
Who knows? Maybe Artest comes back from suspension and dominates Game 3 with a King-sized chip on his shoulder. Maybe he'll be so amped, fueled by the roaring denizens of Arco Arena, that Artest won't even notice the nagging pain in his sprained right thumb.
This much I do know: Artest's history of volatility is not why Sacramento placed only 15th last week in my 16-to-1 ranking of each playoff team's championship chances. The Kings were 15th because they were playing San Antonio in Round 1, simple as that.
Artest comported himself so well post-trade and made such an impact defensively that, until Saturday's lapse, I had almost forgotten about his dark side.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss