Sunday, December 28, 2008

R3: Rise of the Ron

I'm now convinced Ron Artest is Cyberdyne Systems Model 102. I haven't seen any active player today take contact like quite Ron Artest. The man repels opponents, like heroes in martial arts flicks. The enemy moves at him, hits him and yet, his chi somehow delivers the punishment. Lebron James is the best finisher in the game, no doubt. Artest doesn't quite have the balance or athleticism to do what Lebron does around the rim when fouled. But Artest is the hardest case around. He responds the same to contact as no contact. No grimace, no yell, no body crumple... all things Rockets fans have gotten used to. In Ron-Ron, Houston has an indomitable and single-minded machine.

Artest's command performance in last night's 2nd OT was the stuff of saviors, the stuff of folklore. On the tail end of a back-to-back, the Rockets, who'd let the Jazz off the hook in the 4th, were shooting blanks late in the game. Yao Ming, who had found success against Utah's reserve bigs throughout the game, struggled as the "officials" let defenders get away with just about anything when bodying up Yao, a growing trend.

Still, in the final minutes and 1st OT, Adelman kept calling Yao's number, trying to exploit the mismatch but Yao, exhausted, could not finish. He otherwise played a strong game, indicative of his vastly improving stamina and timing, defending the cup with authority and looking quicker to the boards than he was earlier in the season. Yao was certainly more decisive offensively in this game; and despite his misses, he made the right moves down the stretch--given his skill set. Finesse moves to free himself up for open looks but other than a gorgeous left hand sky hook late, he just couldn't finish.

So, Adelman adjusted and went to Artest in the 2nd OT. The difference was distinct. Artest moved powerfully and with more control in the low-post. And as the Rocket's had deferred to Yao for the duration of crunch time, Artest had surprisingly fresh legs and the Jazz had no answer, he was just quicker than his defenders. Utah put Ron-Ron on the line 8 times and he hit all 8 FTs. Rockets win. Yes, the Rockets should have never let the Jazz back into the game, they'll have to continue to work on closing opponents out (particularly the bench for whom it is much their responsibility) but its nice to know that the Rockets have more than one option, and more than just two.

They have Ron.

Fans, however, are gonna have to come up with a better cheer than the less than imaginative "Ron-Ar-test! Ron-Ar-test!"

No comments: