Amid a churning sea of leprechaun green inside the FleetCenter on
Sunday, a lone Indiana Pacers fan behind the baseline held aloft
a small sign that read ARTEST CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH. And for the
first half, at least, that was the case as Ron Artest, the
Pacers' defensive specialist, held Boston Celtics forward Paul
Pierce, a.k.a. the Truth, to five points on 2-of-7 shooting. But
in the third quarter Pierce went Pop-a-Shot on the Pacers,
dropping in 21 of his 37 points, including 11 straight during a 2
1/2-minute stretch, propelling the Celtics to a 102-92 victory
and a surprising 3-1 series lead over the third-seeded Pacers. It
was Pierce's second high-scoring performance in the series. In a
103-100 Game 1 victory he brought the Celtics back from 16 points
down by draining 21 in the fourth quarter en route to a 40-point
night. He scored 14 two nights later in an 89-77 loss and 21 in
Game 3, a 101-83 blowout.
It's hard to say which aspect of Pierce's game was most
exasperating to the Pacers. When he wasn't beating frequent
double teams with a variety of leaners, drives and deep
three-pointers, he was killing Indiana at the free throw line. At
week's end only Shaquille O'Neal had attempted more free throws
in the playoffs than Pierce (53 to 52), but no one had made more
than Pierce's 48 (92.3%), including a playoff record 21-of-21
effort in Game 1. As Pacers guard Reggie Miller points out, the
6'6" Pierce is nearly impossible to guard because he can beat his
man off the dribble and can knock down deep threes. (He was 8 for
20 from behind the arc in the series.) "If we send bigger guys at
him, he's much quicker and can get around them," says Miller.
"But he's tall enough to shoot over his defender."
Indiana's best hope of containing Pierce may be by playing better
on offense. Pierce got good looks in the second half on Sunday
because the Celtics' full-court pressure and aggressive perimeter
defense led to transition baskets and one-on-one coverage. As
Boston coach Jim O'Brien put it, "If we walk the ball up, then
Paul's got three guys on him."
The way Pierce is playing, though, even a triple team might not
pose a problem. --Chris Ballard
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN UNDENIABLE Even Artest, the Pacers' defensive stopper, had no answer for a hot-handed Pierce.