Just 27 seconds into Game 1, while Pau Gasol had the ball and was drawing a foul from Ray Allen, Pierce and Artest went at it under the basket, boxing each other out for a potential rebound. They got tangled up, fell to the floor, and as they climbed back up, Pierce was reaching at Artest from behind, grabbing him by his back and raring to go. It took two teammates, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, to hold him back.
Just 27 seconds in, it was already perfectly clear: Pierce was getting frustrated of Artest and his antics.
The C's captain has dealt with Artest for over a decade, while Pierce wore Celtic green and Artest bounced around to and from the Bulls, Pacers, Kings and Rockets. He has dealt with his fair share of incidents — the dirty fouls, the in-game pantsing, the subsequent singing apology.
Pierce clearly doesn't love Artest, but he knows that all the clownish antics are really just a diversion. Beneath the annoying surface lies an outstanding defender.
But Pierce was tired of answering questions about that, too. So when asked about the matchup after Game 1, he started into a few canned, cliched sentences of an answer before running out of steam.
"Ron is a great defender," Pierce said. "I have a lot of respect for him. You just have to expect him to be physical. He's going to work hard. He's their defensive leader."
He paused, frustrated.
"I don't know what you want me to say," Pierce finished. "I mean, what are you looking for? He's a good defender."
And with that, we discovered Artest's true purpose in this series:To annoy Pierce into submission.
This isn't a series of basketball games — it's a war. A war of attrition. Whoever can wear the other team out first wins.
Two years ago, the Lakers didn't stand a chance. They weren't intense or physical enough. But Artest gives the Lakers an added dimension and it's one they'll desperately need in these Finals.
"Ron was great," Kobe Bryant said after Game 1. "He gave us a physical presence to go against some of these bigger forwards. And on top of that, he's just a great all-around player. He can shoot, he can penetrate, he can post, he can do a multitude of things. A lot of times on this team, he kind of goes unnoticed, because we have so many skillful players."
Artest's coach had a few reservations but was happy with Artest's Game 1 performance.
"He did fine," Phil Jackson said. "We tried to talk him into not getting gambling fouls out there, little inconsequential things that cost him a foul early in the ballgame. He had to go sit down for a while, but he came back and solidified our defense for quite a period of time. He made some big baskets for us, also, that I thought were real shot-in-the-arm shots for us."
On paper, Pierce was the winner of the Artest matchup on Thursday night. He played 46 minutes, shot a respectable 6-of-13 and he finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. But on the court, Artest is doing everything he can to neutralize the Celtics' captain. And if he can't outplay Pierce, he'll find a way to get under his skin by any means necessary.