Pierce can’t cash in, won’t credit Artest

Paul Pierce hasn’t had a firm grasp on the offensive end against the Lakers, shooting 36.1 percent in the Finals. Paul Pierce hasn’t had a firm grasp on the offensive end against the Lakers, shooting 36.1 percent in the Finals. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 10, 2010

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Apparently, it couldn’t have been more obvious to Ron Artest.

Paul Pierce has missed 23 of the 36 shots he has taken in the Finals, leaving him with a shooting percentage (36.1) slightly less futile than he had in the Cleveland series (34.5), when he had to deal with LeBron James on both ends.

Artest’s only assignment in the Finals has been to harass Pierce, but when Artest got word that Pierce didn’t feel his defense was what was leading to the poor shooting, Artest said Pierce must be right.

“I’ve got to get better, obviously,’’ he said. “I’m not doing nothing, obviously. Obviously, my defense, obviously it’s not affecting anybody, obviously. So I’ve got to go out there and try to make it affect somebody.’’

Pierce missed 7 of 12 shots in the Game 3 loss Tuesday night, and when he looked at film the next day, he was seething over his performance. But of all the factors that played into his night — foul trouble, tentativeness, a shot that’s been absent since the end of the Orlando series — Artest didn’t seem like a major one to him.

“I don’t really see anything he’s doing special that any other teams haven’t done throughout the course of the playoffs,’’ Pierce said. “That’s it.’’

Foul issues have been contagious among the Celtics, spreading from Ray Allen in Game 1 to Kevin Garnett in Game 2 to Pierce in Game 3. Pierce picked up two in the first quarter, though he managed to play 20 minutes in the first half. He picked up his fourth early in the third quarter and played just 4 minutes in the period.

Finding a rhythm was impossible, and when the Celtics looked at the tape, coach Doc Rivers found out just how hamstrung Pierce was.

“It’s funny, I said, ‘Paul, that’s a driving lane,’ ’’ Rivers said. “ ‘You’ve got to get to the basket.’ His response was, ‘I was worried about getting another foul.’ It’s tough to play that way.’’

The fouls are one thing, but at several points in the series, it has looked as if Pierce is trying to find his shot. In Game 1, he misfired short on a three and then mimed his shooting motion, trying to rediscover the form that got him 24 points a night in the conference finals.

His shooting woes are on his radar, even if Artest isn’t.

“When you lose two games and you don’t shoot the ball well, you don’t do some of the other things well, you question if you can do more,’’ Pierce said. “Obviously, I probably can do a little more to help this ball club.

“But it’s going to be a team thing. It’s not about one individual. It’s a combination of us that has to step up for this team to win.’’

The shots have been there. He has taken his pull-up from the elbow, but it has abandoned him thus far.

“Those shots are wide open,’’ Rivers said. “For Paul, he’s not going to keep missing those.

“He’s 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 very confident that Paul will have big games for the rest of the series.’’

In some ways, Artest sympathized with Pierce doing other things — rebounding, defending — even if he isn’t scoring.

“He’s sacrificing himself for the benefit of the team, because it’s nobody else at the small forward who is going to bang around perimeter players as he can,’’ Artest said. “It’s hard to see that. You’re used to seeing him score 25 a night. So it’s hard to see the sacrifices.

“I understand that, and I understand that can hurt us if I don’t play the right way. I can play better. Defensively, I’m not getting a lot of the stops I want to get.’’

Considering the way Artest explains his particular style of defense, Pierce may not notice how potent it is until it’s too late.

“I’ve dominated a game defensively, but you really don’t see it,’’ Artest said. “It’s like that death blow, the Chinese blow, when you hit but you don’t really feel it until it’s in you. Five seconds later, you kind of die.’’

Then, realizing there were cameras around, he scrunched his face.

“I can say that on TV?’’

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