Ron Artest Is Doing His Part for the Lakers
Paul Pierce foolishly suggested that the Boston Celtics weren’t going to be coming back to Los Angeles for a potential Game 6 in the NBA Finals. The media’s assumption was that Pierce was suggesting that the Celtics would win the series in Boston. But maybe we didn’t give Paul Pierce enough credit in the objectivity department. Because any sane person coming off a 2-for-11 performance wouldn’t dare suggest that his team was going to win three straight games. Thus, it’s quite possible that Pierce, who’s averaging just 16 points per game in the 2010 NBA Finals, was inclined to say what he said because he truly believes the Los Angeles Lakers will win the series in five games.
Okay, so I’m kidding—at least half-kidding anyway.
The truth is that “The Truth” did a little too much talking for the second time around. Normally, I don’t mind such chatter—in fact, I encourage it. However, when chatter bumps heads with reality, common sense has to step in. Enter, Ron Artest.
While Paul Pierce is playing sub-par basketball during the Finals, we can’t blame it all on Pierce. One could easily look at Ray Allen’s 0 for 13 game in Game 3 and say that performance had more to do with Allen than the Lakers defense. But in the case of Pierce, he’s not getting the looks he’s accustomed to. With exception to Game 1 of the series, Ron Artest has for intents and purposes shut Paul Pierce down.
Of course, a quick glance at the numbers will tell you all you need to know about the Artest vs. Pierce matchup. Pierce’s average of 16.3 ppg is just the beginning of the story. Pierce is averaging just 12.5 ppg in the last two games of the series, and overall, he’s shooting a disappointing 36% from the field. Pierce’s defense has been mostly non-existent, which is quite concerning given that he was instrumental piece in the defense of Kobe Bryant two years ago, when the Boston Celtics won the NBA Finals. Not to mention, Pierce hasn’t even been the greatest decision-maker, as his assists-to-turnover ratio stands at a meager 2:1. All of these stats can be considered even more discouraging when you factor in that Pierce is averaging 40 minutes per game.
However, this is bigger than just numbers. Even if I never saw the result of Pierce’s shot attempts, passes or drives to the rim, I would still be confused by Pierce’s approach to the game. He’s not taking over, he’s not demanding the ball and he isn’t looking for his shot in a fashion we would expect the Celtics best player to do. The pick-n-rolls aren’t being run for Pierce, you rarely see him get to his spot, and outside of 13 free throw attempts in one of the most foul-inclined Game 1’s in NBA Finals history, Pierce has only gotten to the free throw line 9 times in the last two games. In comparison, Rajon Rondo, an otherwise low-volume shooter, has been to the free throw line just as many times as Pierce has in the last two games.
So what’s the deal?
Isn’t it clear? Ron Artest is doing what he’s supposed to do: slowing Paul Pierce down.
Call it the size, the lack of intimidation, or even the possible quicker feet, but whatever it is, Ron Artest is keeping Pierce in front of him and away from both the paint and the free throw line.
Yes, Pierce did manage 24 points in the first game of the NBA Finals, but at the same time, that game was out of reach late in fourth quarter, and Pierce needed both 46 minutes and 13 free throws to get there. But even if we chalk Game 1 up to Pierce, the last two are decidedly in Artest’s favor, and it makes you wonder if Pierce will ever get back on track in these Finals?
Well, don’t count on it. Not that I’m doubting Pierce’s ability, I just think this is a tough matchup for him. After all, whom else could guard Pierce for three straight games, with no help defense and still limit him to 16 points per game and 36% shooting? Not many. However, Artest is able to do this, because he takes away what Pierce does best. Pierce likes to over power people with his size and strength, but Artest is stronger than him. Pierce likes to use that quick elevation to get to the line or get a good look on a jumper, but Artest is quicker than him. Pierce likes to “school” people with his “old-man” skills, patience and experience, but Artest is as crafty as anyone in the league. There’s just no part of Pierce’s arsenal that Artest can’t defend, and it’s showing up on my TV screen and in the box score.
So while Artest’s offensive numbers of 7 points per game and 30% shooting may seem like a detriment to the team, it’s Artest’s defensive ability that has helped the Lakers attain this 2 games to 1 lead in the 2010 NBA Finals. And if Pierce continues to be limited by the defensive prowess of “Ron-Ron,” Pierce’s prediction that this series isn’t going back to Los Angeles may have been more clairvoyant than any of us would have ever imagined.
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