There are times, such as moments when someone needs a wondrous moment to avoid doubts and ongoing criticism, realizing that he was viewed as a narcissistic nutcase with problematic outbursts throughout his troubling seasons in the NBA.

Labeled as a miserable thug for initiating bizarre melees during games by losing it on the floor and throwing tantrums and provoking altercations with a blatant crowd, Ron Artest is no longer perceived as the problem-child. He’s no longer a psychotic goon for his stupidity and absurd madness in previous seasons, but a savior at the right time.

By the end of a disappointing and fluctuate Game Four loss, Kobe Bryant was asked during a postgame interview about his feelings while in despair over a disengaging defeat and he said sarcastically that he was “jovial.”

If he was filled with euphoria, he indeed was on a night a noiseless and a motionless Staples Center exploded when Artest put back Bryant’s miss as time expired to beat the buzzer in a breathtaking 103-101 win over the Phoenix Suns.

This was the portrait of an underachieving superstar salvaging a must-needed win, protecting home-court advantage and taking a commanding 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals, now one win away from returning to the NBA Finals for the third straight season to defend its title.

So now, before critics berate and ridicule a defensive-minded player with the resemblance of Dennis Rodman, understand that his heroics may have saved the Los Angeles Lakers in facing potential doom.

Before critics affirm any doubt in his disappointing and awful performances since signing with the Lakers, understand that his inconceivable game-winning shot will always be remembered in franchise history, especially if the Lakers win its second consecutive championship.

All the celebrities and season-ticket holders witness a jovial night and celebrated once Artest’s awkward layup dropped in. Then, at the end of a miraculous finish, Bryant pumped his fist and wrapped Artest in a bear hug as the nerve-racking crowd roared, relived of a potential relapse and meltdown in what may have extended into a thrilling overtime.

His teammates heckled the forward who seemed lost in the series and struggled to find the intended target from beyond the perimeter, celebrating a miracle to alleviate tense emotions and the notion of elimination.

Unwisely, he attempted an ill-advised three-pointer with 56.9 seconds remaining and possessed a fresh shot clock. He often committed foolish blunders, but none as fatuous as taking an execrable shot with much at stake.

Moments later, he walked slowly and embarrassingly to the bench when the Suns called a timeout. It’s apparent that he had to redeem himself of nearly costing the Lakers a loss at home for selfishly shooting, instead of burning time or finding his teammates, knowing his inconsistency in shot making lately.

Leading by three points, barely holding on against the vintage Suns, he ended up with the ball and foolishly fired. It nearly endangered the Lakers season after he missed woefully and gave the Suns a chance to steal a road game, before traveling back to Phoenix.

Long ago, Artest was the dumbest thug and migrated to Hollywood in hopes to win his first championship alongside Bryant, but he was scolded by Phil Jackson near the bench and described as the dumbest clown in the league for launching one as a prayer.

That almost doomed the Lakers when Suns sharpshooting guard Jason Richardson banked in a three-pointer. Over the years, Artest has mellowed, but no one has forgotten the Malice at the Palace, the most devastating brawl in NBA history, when he charged the stands and attacked a fan.

Never has it been easy to understand his mind, a peculiar and weird dude declared a psycho for all his poor judgments and anger outbursts, becoming a greater nuisance than Brett Favre begging to comeback, Terrell Owens weeping about fewer touches, or Manny Ramirez performing his ridiculous antics.

I guess critics or people in general will think wisely before insisting that he doesn’t shoot, but strictly implement in-your-face, physical defense to counterbalance an opposing superstar, such as nemesis Paul Pierce of the Celtics, if the Lakers and Celtics advances to the NBA Finals.

“Everyone was saying, ‘Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.’ You know, there was a point in time when I shot 40 percent on threes,” said Artest. “I’ve hit a lot of shots before.”

With 3.5 seconds remaining, Artest was the player least expected to score the game-winning shot and alarm a tense and terrified environment, realizing the Lakers were in trouble if they failed to win at home before traveling to Phoenix in a sudden death situation.

Like always, the play was designed for Bryant to hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer, but he was trapped on the sideline and double-teamed tightly by Steve Nash and Grant Hill.

As a result, he forced an off-balance pump-fake jump shot, only to fall short for an air ball. And moments later, there was Artest bailing out the Lakers by grabbing the rebound and hurling his unbelievable put back that initiated the biggest celebration at Staples Center and outside on Figueroa Ave.

“He has an uncanny knack of doing this, and sometimes it just works out,” Jackson said.

The Lakers have won 11 straight postseason games at home. Artest’s heroics installed much hopefulness, but they’ll need assertiveness and awareness in Phoenix to avoid a Game Seven. It seemed that Bryant, who had 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists, isn’t the only clutch shooter with Artest capping redemption.

In an unhappy ending, the heartbreaking loss has the Suns in a must-win situation, needing two more wins to survive a compelling series. For whatever reason, Phoenix abandoned the 2-3 zone defense, a successful formation that has offset the Lakers, who were fortunate to win after blowing an 18-point lead.

Despite all the talent and depth within a solid bench, the Suns vanished in all levels of the game. By the stellar performance, Nash and the Suns bench keep hopes alive, and Phoenix almost pulled off the stunning upset on the road Thursday. For much of the game, Alvin Gentry, the head coach of the Suns, was bothered by a sour stomach and suffered an illness on the sideline, needing a trash can to vomit on the bench.

But seemingly from out of nowhere, Artest knocked down a game-winner in clutch moments, merely scoring four points on 2 for 9 shooting and had five rebounds, two assists and three steals.

“I don’t know why I left him in the game,” Jackson said. “I actually questioned it myself,” he said, smiling.

Maybe his amazing shot answers the question. He can practically shoot.


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