Ron Artest Annoyed Paul Pierce Won't Give Him Credit
Lakers forward Ron Artest is thinking just the opposite, that his own defense is about to intensify, preparing to lock down Pierce even more than he already has.
One of them is going to be awakened rudely Thursday night. The winner of that debate is probably going to win Game 4.
While Pierce has struggled offensively in the last two games -- combining to make just seven of his 23 shots -- Artest is riled by the fact that neither Pierce nor Celtics coach Doc Rivers will credit him for the defensive role he has played.
"Paul said it wasn't me. Paul said I'm not doing anything, so I guess I better play better defensively (against him),'' Artest said sarcastically Wednesday after a short practice. "I have to go out there and make my defense affect somebody.''
Artest has long been considered one of the league's best perimeter defenders, and his battles against Pierce in the past have been good theater. In the first minute of Game 1, they tangled together and crashed to the floor with arms locked, wrestling for position under the basket, drawing double technical fouls.
While Pierce is trying to win his second NBA title and re-establish his dominance as one of the league's best offensive players, Artest is bent upon putting his defensive stamp on a Lakers championship -- in his first year in Los Angeles.
"I know how to change a game defensively,'' Artest said. "I've dominated games defensively, and sometimes people don't see it. It's like that Chinese death blow hit. You don't feel until it's in you, and five seconds later, you kind of die. I forget the name of it, but it's a death blow.''
Artest was signed last summer to replace small forward Trevor Ariza, who left for Houston as a free agent after winning his title with the Lakers. Although he was considered a better player than Ariza, there were questions whether his stronger personality would fit an already championship team.
He has gone to great lengths in trying to fit, mostly staying out of the way offensively while Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher dominate play. He hit just two of 14 shots combined in the last two games, but the Lakers don't need him to score to win. The Celtics are desperate for Pierce to score, which magnifies whatever Artest can do to slow him.
"I don't really see anything he's doing special that any other teams haven't done,'' Pierce said Wednesday before the Celtics practiced. "You watched the game. What do you think he's doing?''
Artest has used his physical strength to muscle good offensive players in the past, pushing them away from their normal spots. He did it effectively -- at times -- against Kevin Durant, the NBA's leading scorer, in the first-round playoff matchup. In the clinching Game 6 of that series, Durant made just 5 of 23 shots, crediting Artest with causing him problems.
"I thought Paul is getting good shots,'' said Celtics coach Doc Rivers Wednesday. "He's not making some of them. Maybe Ron has something to do with that, but I don't think he is. If we get Paul in rhythm and get him on his spots, I feel very confident that Paul will have big games for the rest of the series.''
Without big games from Pierce, the Celtics are unlikely to win this best-of-seven series. They already trail 2-1, and a good lockdown job on Pierce Thursday night could seal the series.
"I haven't played defense (in this series) like I want to play defense. I'll be better in Game 4,'' Artest said. "I can do things to disrupt everyone on the floor.''
Artest was quick to point out that he does nothing special against Pierce that he doesn't do every night. He watches extra film to study the tendencies of Pierce, making sure not to give him any extra credit.
"I don't have to study anyone,'' Artest said. "Any move anyone makes in the NBA, I've already seen it before in New York City (where he grew up). I'll pull out some New York tricks (Thursday) and see if they work.''
Both Pierce and Artest were saddled with foul trouble in Game 3, won in Boston by the Lakers. Artest had two fouls in the first three minutes. Pierce played only 34 minutes because of five fouls. Much of their battle could be determined by how the game is officiated, which has become a hot topic in this series.
"I think Ron affects everyone's offense. He's the best perimeter defender in the league,'' said Lakers backup Luke Walton. "I have to play him in practice every day, and it's a pain in the ass. His strength, his hands, he makes it tough to get into any kind of a rhythm. I don't think Pierce is frustrated, but he's not putting up the numbers he has in the past, and I credit Ron with that.''