Jackson believes the difference between this series and the one in 2008—when Pierce was voted MVP and the Celtics snapped the Lakers like stick figures—is "brawn and Ron." In Game 1 Artest held Pierce to 11 points in the first three quarters, after which the 102--89 rout was on. In Game 2 Artest held Pierce to 2 of 11 shooting, reminiscent of their earliest meetings, when Artest was a Pacer. "Ron gave Paul fits back then," says a former Celtics assistant. "He gets under your chin, chest to chest, belly to belly. He'd make Paul catch the ball 10 feet from where he wanted. He'd make him post up at the three-point line. Everywhere Paul went he would be in his face."
Even though Artest mauled Pierce like it was the early 2000s, Allen and Rondo couldn't be stopped on Sunday. The Lakers appreciate that Artest is smothering Pierce, but they also need his outside shooting to beat the double teams on Bryant and to counterbalance Allen's. During last year's playoff march, Trevor Ariza filled that void, but Artest has shot a wobbly 28.1% from three-point range in the postseason.
The problem with Artest's shooting, as diagnosed by Los Angeles assistants Chuck Person and Craig Hodges, is his posture. He tends to catch the ball standing straight, so he has to bend down and then rise again, complicating his motion. Person and Hodges are urging Artest to receive the ball in a crouch so he can rise right up into his shot. He works on it late at night, alone in the Lakers' practice facility, under the championship banners. If L.A. doesn't hang another one next fall, there will be plenty of reasons, but nobody will be able to say that Ron Artest's head wasn't in it.
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Jack McCallum and Dan Shaughnessy on great Lakers-Celtics Finals at SI.com/nba