NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest

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Thumbnail image for Pierce_celebrates.jpgTwo years ago, the Lakers tried to guard Paul Pierce in the Finals with Vladimir Radmanovic. Los Angeles might as well have tried to wrap Pierce up in wet toilet paper, it’s about the same deterrent. Pierce did whatever he wanted against the Lakers then starter, got in a rhythm and became almost unstoppable.

This time around, the matchup at the three is far more interesting — Ron Artest vs. Pierce. Two hard-nosed players. Two guys with some street in them, who will fight back. Two guys prone to sell calls. Artest the defender against Pierce the scorer.

This time around the three spot will be a battleground. Pierce told ESPNBoston he knows what’s coming.

“He’s the most physical player at the wing position,” said Pierce. “He
plays the forward/guard position like a power forward or center. He
likes to bang you, get on your body, grab you, hold you, pull down your
shorts. He’ll do anything. You guys know that, just from watching him
over the years. He’ll do anything to get in an opponent’s head. From
playing him over the years, I’m used to the things he tries to do. I
just go out there and play my game, not get into the antics.”

Pierce is still going to get his — he had 26 points on 7 of 20 (35 percent) shooting for the two games where the teams faced off this season, and he averaged well over a point per possession used. Zach at Celtics Hub looked farther back and when Pierce has been matched up on Artest from 2006 until now, Pierce has averaged 188 .points per game on 43 percent shooting, and is 36 percent from three.

Not bad numbers, but Pierce has to work hard for those points. Certainly a lot harder than he did against whatever it was that Vlad Rad was playing in 2008 (I wouldn’t call it defense).

Watching Pierce in the two games this season against the Lakers (thank you MySynergySports) a few things stood out.

Pierce’s best looks came in transition. With Rajon Rondo pushing the pace the Lakers would collapse back to protect against his drives and if Pierce went Orlando Magic playbook and just ran down and spotted up for a three he got wide-open looks. He also got some good looks off one of the Celtics favorite plays, where he pops-out off a pin-down screen (those down screens the Celtics set are some of the best in basketball, not always the most legal with some grabbing going on, but very effective).

In the half court, if Pierce ran the pick-and-roll the Lakers almost always switched, letting Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol take Pierce, and he struggled to exploit that. Gasol and Odom are both long and disrupt shots.

Pierce got shots against the Lakers in those games, and he can still get hot, he can still carry the Celtics offense. But he’s going to have to really work for it. Artest is not what he was as a defender five years ago, but he is pit bull relentless — he is strong, fights through picks well and does not give up on plays when others might (just ask the Suns about the end of Game 5).

This battle is just going to be fun to watch.