Paul Pierce looks to regain his shooting touch

Paul Pierce of the Celtics, left, refused to give the Lakers' Ron Artest too much credit for his defense during the first three games of the NBA Finals. The Boston forward is shooting just 36.1 percent.
Paul Pierce of the Celtics, left, refused to give the Lakers' Ron Artest too much credit for his defense during the first three games of the NBA Finals. The Boston forward is shooting just 36.1 percent. (Don Emmert/getty Images)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010

BOSTON -- The slingshot motion remains the same, but the follow-through is much different for Paul Pierce in these NBA Finals. He once backpedaled confidently upon his release, expecting his shot to fall, and often, it did.

But now Pierce bends over, leans in, tilts his head sideways, hoping that his post-shot gyrations can will the ball through the net. It hasn't worked at all against the Los Angeles Lakers, as Pierce, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, has yet to have any influence in the first three games of this best-of-seven series -- one of the reasons that the Boston Celtics trail, 2-1.

Pierce has either gotten off to a slow start (he made just three field goals through three quarters in Game 1); no start (he went 2 for 11 from the field in Game 2); or a false start (he missed his first six shots and collected five fouls in Game 3). The Celtics aren't expecting Pierce's hop-from-the-wheelchair heroics from two years ago, but with Game 4 set for Thursday at TD Garden, they are still waiting for the arrival of some vintage Pierce.

"We need Paul to be Paul Pierce, 'the Truth,' " Kevin Garnett said, using the nickname Shaquille O'Neal gave Pierce after a game against the Lakers in 2001. "He did have a great Finals [in 2008], and I thought that whole run, he had a great momentum. But the game has a feel, and you have to go with that feel."

Pierce is still searching for that feel. He leads the Celtics in scoring against the Lakers, but he has made just 13 of 33 shots (36.1 percent). "Not really shooting the ball particularly well," said Pierce, who is averaging just 16.7 points in the series. "When you lose two games and you don't shoot the ball well, you don't do some other things well, you question if you can do more. Obviously, I can probably do a little more to help this ballclub."

The Lakers added the bulky, broad-shouldered and bruising Ron Artest this offseason, specifically so he could be Kobe Bryant's bouncer and take out the opposing team's best perimeter scorer. Pierce averaged just 13 points in two regular season games this season against Artest, who proved to be an upgrade over Vladimir Radmanovic, Luke Walton and the other Lakers torched by Pierce in their last Finals meeting.

Artest, who is the same height but about 25 pounds heavier than Pierce, has given Pierce fits over his career. Once, as a member of the Indiana Pacers, Artest pulled down Pierce's shorts while Pierce was working to get the ball. Pierce, though, wasn't fazed on that play as he slid them back up and buried a jumper over Artest. Artest later serenaded Pierce on television with a horrible, apologetic song.

While Artest remains a physically imposing pest, the Celtics refused to credit him for affecting Pierce in this series. "I don't think he is," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought Paul is getting good shots. He's not making some of them. Maybe Ron has something to do with that. But if we get Paul in rhythm and get him on his spots, I feel confident that Paul will have big games for the rest of the series."

When asked if his poor shooting against Artest is a coincidence, Pierce said: "I think so. I don't really see anything he's doing special that any other teams haven't done throughout the playoffs. You watched the game. What do you think he's doing?"

Artest said he hopes to change Pierce's opinion. "Paul said I'm not doing anything. So I guess I got to come out Game 4 and play better defensively. I got to do better. Obviously, I'm not doing nothing. Obviously, my defense is not affecting anybody. I got to go out there and make it affect somebody.

"You're used to seeing him score 25 a night. So it's hard to see he's sacrificing himself for the benefit of the team. I understand that and I understand that can hurt us if I don't play the right way," Artest said before getting into an animated discussion about how his defense is deceptive. "It's like that death blow, the Chinese blow, when you hit, but you don't really feel it until it's in you and five seconds later, you kind of die."

Pierce has had previous struggles this postseason, namely an exhausting battle defending and being defended by LeBron James in the second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But he bounced back in the Eastern Conference finals against the Orlando Magic, making bold declarations about finishing them off with a wink and smile. Despite his inability to find a rhythm against the Lakers, he seemed a tad overconfident late in Game 2, when he shouted to Lakers fans, "We ain't going back to L.A.!"

He has since backtracked and revised those plans, saying after the Game 3 loss, "We've got to go back to L.A."

The Celtics need to win at least one game in Boston to ensure a return trip home for the Inglewood, Calif., native. In order for that to occur, they will likely need Pierce to overcome Artest and backpedal with assurance following his jump shots.

"I'm trying to do as much as I can," Pierce said. "I'm trying to do as much as possible, as much responsibility as the team gives me to help this team win. I can do more if they need me to do more. I have to just -- there's times I have to rise to the challenge. We have a 1-2 hole. I have to play better, and I have to accept the challenge."

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