Breaking down Ron Artest's defensive performance in Lakers' 95-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets
Lakers forward Ron Artest has a simple rule that he follows. It's one that sounds easy. But it is actually difficult when you account the evolving emotions and rhythms of a game as well as the grind of an 82-game regular season.
That concept involves how to maintain the proper focus for every game, and block out positive and negative thoughts regarding past or future performances. This tactic isn't simply focusing on one game, moving past it and focusing on the next one. It's much more specific.
"It goes by possession," Artest said Monday after practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "You play the next possession. You might have five, 10 bad possessions. Then you might have 10 good possessions. They could be the last five possessions of a game like today and then the next five possessions of a game like tomorrow. You just go possession by possession and it’ll work itself out. You prepare for your whole life and practice so long. It’s not really about the game. If you play hard every possession, you’ll be fine."
It was fitting then that Artest refused to reflect on his strong defensive performance in Sunday's 95-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets where he kept Carmelo Anthony in check, limiting him to 21 points on seven of 19 shooting, swiping a season-high six steals and also scoring 17 points. It is because of Artest's refusal to focus on anything but the present that ensured him to have that lockdown performance, and it's the very reason why the Lakers signed him this offseason.
It doesn't matter that Artest doesn't appear to dissect scouting reports. When he was asked about the Lakers' upcoming game against the Indiana Pacers, Artest responded in a matter-of-fact tone, "What's their lineup? I don't even know it." It doesn't matter to Artest that the Pacers (20-39) feature Danny Granger, Brandon Rush, Troy Murphy, T.J. Ford and Earl Watson, and it's not just because of their record. It's because Artest has tried abiding by a simple philosophy.
"As long as you play every possession hard," Artest said, "you just move onto the next game without any problems."
Artest's performance came at the right time as Denver showcased its physical and gritty reputation, something that clearly frustrated the Lakers in the first half. The tides changed though in the second half, and it was something that Artest's defense initiated. Below is a breakdown about how that unfolded in the second half:
3rd quarter, 10:06 - 9:50
After Anthony's passed to Nene up top, Melo cut down into the paint and rolled off a back screen set by Chauncey Billups at the right block. Artest cut right through the pick and continued to mark Anthony. Nene passed to guard Arron Afflalo as Melo cut along the baseline and tried posting up on Artest, who didn't allow Melo to get comfortable positioning. Instead Affalo moved further out of the perimeter, while Anthony moved behind the three-point line. Artest swiped Affalo's pass, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant quickly picked up the ball and hoisted a pass to Artest. He picked it up for a wide-open fast break dunk, cutting Denver's lead to 52-49, capping a 6-0 run to open the third quarter.
3rd quarter, 9:41 - 9:21
While Nene had the ball outside the perimeter, Artest marked Anthony with zero room to penetrate. Anthony slighty pushed off Artest and cut right behind Nene, who dumped the ball off to Anthony and set a high screen on Artest up top. Artest bulldozed through Nene and continued to mark on Anthony. He dribbled right and pulled up for 14-foot jumper, but it hit the back rim. Nene grabbed the board and passed the ball p top to Billups, who immediately set up Anthony as he posted up on Artest just ahead of the three-point line. After Artest gave Anthony space to drive left, Anthony took the bait, Gasol moved on help defense and Artest slid in to draw a jump ball.
3rd quarter, 4:57 - 4:46
With both Anthony and Artest out of the perimeter on the far side, Anthony squared up on Artest, jabbed right twice and then drove left. But Artest immediately swiped the ball away.
3rd quarter, :44 - :37
Nuggets forward Chris "Birdman" Anderson set a screen on Artest at the top of the key, but Artest fit in the space between Anthony and Anderson as Anthony dribbled on the right side of the perimeter. Anderson se a screen again on Artest's right side, and instead of sliding through, Artest swiped at the ball and it landed in Gasol's hands.
4th quarter, 2:13 - 2:16
While Billups manned the point up top, Anthony cut to the left block and shouldered into Artest. The contact was actually pretty minimal, but Artest sold the contact and the referees called Anthony for his sixth foul. The Lakers led 93-89 at the time.
Those plays weren't the only ones Artest made against Anthony. There was the whole first half after all, which included plays that may have resulted in baskets but clearly still disrupted Anthony's confidence. For the full compilation, check out this assembled clip.
Of course, Artest has also experienced growing pains with the Lakers. His concussion on Christmas night sidelined him for five games, exacerbating his learning curve in mastering the triangle offense. His plantar fasciitis in both feet also had contributed to his inconsistency on defense. That being said, Artest's recent performance isn't a complete revelation. He's locked down on players such as Boston's Paul Pierce and Golden State's Corey Maggette.
Artest's latest performance just provided a more vivid sign of why he has proved himself as a valuable member of the Lakers, something that's been aided recently by a revamped diet. And the team has surely taken notice.
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