Tuesday June 15th, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- The tweet was posted early Friday morning, just hours after the Lakers lost 96-89 to the Celtics in Game 4.

Man if LA loses. Ron gonna be the scapegoat. That's so foul. If that happens. I hope he requests a trade.

The source of the post was Daniel Artest, Ron's younger brother, who was rushing to the Lakers forward's defense after big bro submitted another subdued performance (nine points on 4-of-10 shooting) while allowing his counterpart, Paul Pierce, to score 19 points on 7-for-12 from the field.

"Everybody has different DNA, different brains," Ron said of his brother. "I like it, though. My brother is doing a great job of getting his name out there."

Ron Artest has done a pretty good job lately of keeping his name at the forefront, too, though not for the reasons he might like. Coming into the Finals, Artest's defense on Pierce was considered a key variable in the Lakers' success. But while Pierce has struggled at times -- he shot 2-of-11 in Game 2 -- that might have more to do with his own shot than Artest's D.

"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.''

Indeed, in Game 5, Pierce (27 points) finally started to develop a rhythm, which Artest was helpless to slow. After watching Pierce converted back-to-back shots in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant walked to the Lakers' bench and snapped to coach Phil Jackson, "I'll guard him."

"Paul is a very deliberate ballplayer and when he's comfortable out there, he can be very difficult to guard," Jackson said Sunday after the Celtics won 92-86 to close within one victory of the NBA title. "He's got a step back. He's got a nice shot that he takes off the dribble. His post-up game is good. There are a lot of things that he has as weapons. He had Ron guessing for much of the game."

Compounding the situation has been Artest's offense. Or lack of it. Artest has struggled with the triangle offense in his first year in L.A., averaging a career-low 11 points on 41.4 percent shooting in the regular season. He has looked lost operating out of Jackson's disciplined sets, often overdribbling or hoisting ill-advised shots. It hasn't gotten better in the playoffs, either. Artest is averaging 10.6 points (another career low) on 39.1 percent shooting while connecting on just 27.9 percent of his three-pointers and 54.5 percent of his free-throw attempts.

Artest has been worse in the Finals, averaging 7.8 points (on 30.2 percent shooting) while making just 7-of-15 (46.7 percent) at the line. In Game 5, Artest had a chance to pull the Lakers within three points late in the fourth quarter. But his two free throws bounced off the rim and L.A. was never able to make it a one-possession game.

"I don't know what people want from me sometimes," Artest said. "What do you want from me, 20 [points]? I want to win. That's it."

For the Lakers to overcome a 3-2 deficit, however, they need better play from Artest. Bryant has tried to carry the team the last two games; the results have been some spectacular individual numbers but, more important, two straight defeats. A common thread in both games was ineffectiveness from Artest, who followed up his quiet Game 4 by hitting 2-of-9 shots in Game 5.

"I don't know what else to do outside of play team ball," Artest said. "If that means just having two points for the whole game, that's what that means. I'm totally fine with that."

But will the Lakers? Artest will be inextricably linked with Trevor Ariza, who averaged 11 points and knocked down 41.7 percent of his three-point shots in the Lakers' 2009 Finals victory against Orlando (Ariza signed with Houston last offseason while Artest moved from the Rockets to Lakers in a virtual swap of small forwards). At a minimum, the Lakers expect comparable numbers from Artest, or at least more production and efficiency as the series shifts back to L.A. Otherwise, Daniel Artest's words will prove to be prophetic. Ron will be made the scapegoat.

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