WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the Lakers and Celtics met for the first time during the 2009-10 regular season, the referees hadn't even thrown up the ball for the game's opening tip before Ron Artest and Paul Pierce were already getting into it.
As Pierce leaned in at the midcourt stripe for the jump ball, Artest shoved him back towards his side of the court and the two proceeded to grapple like an uncoordinated couple might dance before referees intervened.
Artest limited Pierce to 15 points that January afternoon and drew a pivotal charge late in the game (with Artest famously flailing about 15 rows into the crowd while selling the call). Despite it all, Pierce considers Artest one of the elite defenders in the league, particularly at the wing position.
"We've been playing in the playoffs since he was in Indiana," said Pierce. "He's a very competitive guy, he's been on the All-Defense team, and we've matched up good over 10-11 years. He's one of the best players I've played against and he takes pride in that -- being able to lock down his opponent, night in and night out."
The addition of Artest and his defense against Pierce is sure to be a focal point in this series given that it's one of the few notable roster changes since Boston topped the Lakers in the 2008 Finals.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers couldn't help but shake his head at all the talk about how Artest doesn't fit in Los Angeles.
"I heard all year how Artest doesn't fit, how he hasn't fit," said Rivers. "I'm thinking, 'He's perfect.' He's allowed Kobe [Bryant] not to guard the best player every night. It's clear, you can see it in Kobe's offensive numbers. He's as fresh as I've ever seen him and it's due to Ron Artest. He's bee perfect for them."
Artest's ability to check Pierce, and the fact that Pierce must guard Bryant at the other end, makes for a difficult challenge for Boston's captain.
"Ron's the perfect complement to Kobe," said Pierce. "We saw [in 2008], Kobe was going around from me to Ray Allen to [Rajon] Rondo. He doesn't have that pressure now. They've got a guy in Ron Artest who can do that. When you have that type of guy [like Artest, then Kobe] doesn't have to think so hard on defense. He can control the game, make clutch shots, and will his team to win."
But that doesn't mean Pierce is worried about the challenge of guarding Bryant.
"Well, I figure it's like this: I've been through series with [Miami's Dwyane] Wade, [Cleveland's] LeBron [James], and [Orlando's] Vince Carter," said Pierce. "I'm not saying that those guys are on Kobe's level. But mentally, physically, I'm ready for it."
But that also means Pierce has to be ready for Artest both mentally and physically as well.
"He's the most physical player at the wing position," said Pierce. "He plays the forward/guard position like a power forward or center. He likes to bang you, get on your body, grab you, hold you, pull down your shorts. He'll do anything. You guys know that, just from watching him over the years. He'll do anything to get in an opponent's head. From playing him over the years, I'm used to the things he tries to do. I just go out there and play my game, not get into the antics."
Pierce wasn't just making up an example of potential Artest antics when he referenced the pantsing. That actually occurred during Artest's time in Indiana (see the video below).