BOSTON -- Lost in the officiating angst and Ray Allen's feast-or-famine shooting is a matchup that will be critical to the outcome of Game 4 of the NBA Finals Thursday night: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest.
As Mike Freeman has noted , Pierce has been notably absent from the Finals festivities thus far, averaging only 16.3 points while shooting 36 percent from the field. That's simply not good enough for the Celtics to win this series. Allen's 3-point shooting comes and goes, but Pierce needs to produce for Boston to take the momentum back from the Lakers.
Pierce has downplayed the notion that Artest's defense has anything to do with his lack of productivity in the first three games, but that's wishful thinking on his part. Sometimes Artest is a viable option on offense, and sometimes he shoots 1-for-10 or dribbles around aimlessly before launching an ill-advised shot. But one thing the guy does is play defense. Been doing it for years. This is why the Lakers signed him.
Well, not exactly. The Lakers signed him presuming they'd be facing LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Finals, but the Celtics dispensed with Bron & Co. and proceeded to unleash a torrent of organizational change on the banks of Lake Erie. When you draw up a defensive game plan for the Celtics, the first guy you zero in on is Pierce. Phil Jackson and his staff haven't been required to do much in that regard other than put their arm around Artest, point to No. 34 in green and white, and say, "Get him."
Artest has, with brute force and quick hands and savvy that comes not from video study but gut instincts. Artest has said on several occasions during the playoffs that he doesn't study the opponent he's guarding, whether it's Kevin Durant, LeBron, or Pierce. On Friday, he explained why.
"I've seen every move in New York City, so I don’t have to study my opponent anymore," Artest said. "Every move that somebody has in the NBA, I’ve seen it already. I’ve seen it in New York already."
Artest was asked if he could still dominate a game defensively -- as if holding the Celtics' No. 1 scoring option to 36 percent shooting was somehow not dominant.
"I have before," Artest said. "I've dominated a game defensively and scored four points. You really don’t see it. It’s like that death blow, the Chinese blow? Where you hit and you don’t really feel it yet until it’s in you, and like five seconds later you kind of die? You've see that on TV?"
Sure, Ron. Anyway, Artest's approach to guarding Pierce hasn't been steeped in any nuance. Just straightforward grappling and a few playground tricks.
"I guess you just play the same way that you’ve been playing for all these years, but just stick to it," Artest said. "That’s why sometimes I have bad games because I'm playing the same way I've been playing for years. I try to get better, but one thing I have been doing for years is playing defense. I know how to change a game defensively, know little things I can do to disrupt everybody on the floor. Offensively sometimes, certain days, I may have 30 [points]. I've worked on that part of my game. Some days I might go 1 for 10. But defensively I can probably make somebody else shoot bad. So the days I don’t play well offensively, I've got to make sure I stay executing and maybe only take two shots or four shots, get some deflections, get some stops, pull out some old New York City tricks defensively and see what happens. See if it works."
It's worked so far on Pierce. If it keeps working, the Celtics are in trouble.