LOS ANGELES -- No one will ever accuse Ron Artest of over thinking a situation. No one will ever accuse Ron Artest of not working his tail off, either.
By serendipity, both of those traits emerged in the final minute of a crossroads playoff game Thursday night, perhaps searing -- and endearing -- him into the lore and the hearts of Los Angeles Lakers fans forever.
In the final minute of play, he morphed from dunderhead to gamer.
From big mistake to being great.
From his coach berating him to his teammates mobbing him
From a chorus of "What the $%&$ are you doing?!?!?" to the deafening sound of 18,997 people at Staples Center drowning him in elation over a critical, buzzer-beating postseason victory. Artest's buzzer-beating victory.
"He has an uncanny knack of doing things," said his coach, Phil Jackson, who almost took his last-second hero out of the game for the final seconds. "Sometimes it just works out."
Artest might not have been the hero if he weren't almost the villain in this basketball melodrama, a sweat-it-out, 103-101 victory that allowed the Lakers to regain a 3-2 advantage over gritty Phoenix in the Western Conference finals.
The Lakers held a 101-98 lead with just under a minute to play when Artest took a 20-foot jump shot to try to increase the lead. It missed, making him 1-for-7 from the field at that point.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Pau Gasol grabbed the rebound. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Gasol quickly passed the ball right back to Artest at the three-point line.
"Obviously, you know, (a new) 24 seconds on the clock, you bring it out," said Artest later. "You bring it out and set it back up."
He didn't. He set his feet to launch another shot, while the united population of an entire building gasped in horror. With thousands of people screaming, "No-o-o-o!" Artest was oblivious.
"You don't hear the fans scream, 'Yes, no, please don't or whatever,' " said Artest, who could smile about it afterwards.
What Artest was thinking was that, as the newcomer this year on a championship team, he craves a sense of belonging.
"I'm trying somehow, you know, to make it work for the team," he said. "That's kind of why I wanted to take that shot. It's not always a good shot, but nobody's perfect."
Nope. He missed, the Suns got the rebound and in the ensuing timeout, Jackson let him know about it.
"He wanted to redeem himself ... you understand and kind of feel for a player," Jackson said. "But at that time of the game, it's not a good play. I wanted to let him know that he has to know that and recognize it."
Added Jackson, smiling: "He was trying hard not to listen to me, very hard."
It got worse, of course. The Suns, determined to tie the game with a three-point shot, played ricochet with the iron, grabbing rebounds of misses by Steve Nash and Jason Richardson, before Richardson finally banked one in with 3.5 seconds left.
After a Lakers timeout, the ball went to the Lakers' go-to guy, Kobe Bryant, who tried to hit a fallaway jumper while sailing backwards into the $2,000 seats. It was the best airball of his career.
Artest -- the man of the last second, if not the man of the last minute -- flashed from the other side of the lane, snatched the ball as it fell short of the rim and banked in a layup as the red lights around the basket went on and the final horn sounded.
"Just staying with it," Artest said. "Staying with it and trying to stay focused."
It's harder than it looks, no doubt.