Apparently, missing almost all of last season hasn’t taken much off Ron Artest’s game.
Artest was suspended for the final 73 games of the regular season and the playoffs last year for his well-chronicled charge into the stands during a melee in Detroit. He didn’t take long to re-establish himself as one of the Pacers’ most important players in Wednesday’s season opener, finishing with 16 points, three rebounds and five assists in a 90-78 win at Orlando.
Artest started 1-of-7 from the field, but shook off the rust in the second half and led the Pacers to victory with several big plays and strong defense. He finished 4-of-14 from the floor and 6-of-9 from the free-throw line.
“They were nice boos,” Artest said with a smile. “They had to do that because they had nothing else to do. I am not paying attention to it.”
Artest will be forever linked to the Nov. 19, 2004, brawl between the Pacers and Detroit Pistons. A fan hit him in the face with a drink in the game, setting off the worst brawl in U.S. sports history. Artest ran into the stands and pushed the fan he thought threw the cup. He also punched a fan who came onto the court.
“This is going to be a process for him,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “I would think it’s going to be 20 to 30 games before he really starts to feel comfortable after being off for that long.
“He didn’t shoot the ball great, but he made some really important plays at key times.”
The Pacers, who are beginning life without retired shooting guard Reggie Miller, will be taking on a revamped Heat team that was also victorious in its opener.
Walker shot 10-of-17 from the field, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
“When you have this type of versatility that we’ve added this year, it really becomes a case of ‘pick your poison’ on any night,” reserve center Alonzo Mourning said.
Shaquille O’Neal scored 12 points, and Williams, playing his first game as the Heat point guard after four seasons in Memphis, finished with 10.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can create plays,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said, “which is great as long as we’re moving the ball and not falling into everyone trying to make the great play. (That’s) what I thought happened in the first half. Everybody wanted to make the great dish for the score, and it ended up as turnover after turnover.”