Surprisingly, many of the shots went in.
Unfortunately for Artest and the Pacers, the shots haven’t been falling during the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons.
Artest took 57 shots and made only 15, establishing himself as the poster child for the type of offensive ineptitude that has defined this series. Indiana has shot a shade under 32 percent while dropping two of the first three games.
Game 4 is Friday night.
“We’re playing horrible,” Artest said, a statement that can be appreciated by anyone who has watched the series.
The teams shun the running game and grind out their offenses, during the rare moments when they’re not fouling each other.
Detroit’s 85 points in Game 3 was the highest total by either team, which begs the question: Is the Pistons’ defense really that good, or is Indiana’s offense truly that bad?
“We’re that good. We’ve been doing that all season,” Pistons forward Ben Wallace said. “The last thing I want to do is sit here and defend the way two of the best teams in the league play basketball. Call it what you want.”
Indiana’s offensive woes haven’t been limited to Artest.
Of the 12 quarters thus far, Indiana has failed to score 20 points in eight of them.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust in the playoffs. They’re going to take things away, and right now I don’t have a counter to their defense,” Artest said. “I’m trying to adjust to that.”
Part of what is bothering Artest is the defense of Tayshaun Prince, the long-armed small forward whose length has caused Artest to slightly alter his jump shot.
As Artest worked on his jumper at practice Thursday, assistant coach Chad Forcier held up a three-foot broom to simulate a defender putting a hand in Artest’s face. Given the way Prince has bothered Artest, a six-foot broom would have been a more apropos prop.
When Artest has been able to get around Prince, he’s been met by one of the Pistons’ shot blockers—Ben Wallace or Rasheed Wallace—who also force him to alter his release.
The Pacers have tried to run more of their offense through O’Neal in the low post.
Detroit has usually used single coverage against O’Neal, though a second or third defender often hurries over the cut off any angle to the basket.
It’s a new hurdle to leap for a Pacers team that often did things differently on offense during the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs. The change in style has been difficult for Artest to embrace.
“Right now I’m trying to adjust to the way the coach is playing so we can win games,” Artest said. “I’m not getting the ball where I want to get it.
“A lot of my shots are in the rim, in and out,” said Artest, who took a disproportionate share of Indiana’s early shots as the Pacers got off to another slow start in Game 2.
“There were two bad shots, an airball and a brick, and I missed a layup. The two previous games I got into the paint any time I wanted. Yesterday I got into the paint when I wanted, but I just didn’t have the ball as much as I wanted to.”
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle turned to reserve Austin Croshere in Game 3 to make the Pistons pay for sagging into the middle when the ball went inside.
He may be tempted to use Jonathan Bender in the same role to a greater degree than he did Wednesday when Bender, who has shot 3-for-4 from 3-point range during the series, played only five minutes.
When Carlisle was coaching the Pistons last season, his adjustments in Game 5 of the first round against Orlando—turning to reserves Mehmet Okur and Prince for some much-needed offense—helped Detroit recover from a 3-1 deficit to win the series.
As the Pacers sat down for a lengthy videotape session Thursday, Carlisle preached about the rare opportunity they’re experiencing—and how they don’t want to squander it.
A loss Friday night would leave them in a 3-1 hole, whereas a win would even the series and restore the homecourt advantage the Pacers worked all season to earn.
“They’re going to play their best game by far,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “They’re a great road team, and I imagine we’ll see them at their highest level. If we don’t have our best effort, we’re in trouble.”