Paul Pierce walked off the court two years ago as a legend. His first NBA championship was the platform that raised him from just another star player, to a Finals MVP. Between two championship caliber teams, Pierce was the difference in the series. So what has changed only two years later, in the 2010 NBA Finals?
For Boston there is of course the emergence of Rajon Rondo. For LA, Andrew Bynum is available as a threat in the post. Bynum can provide an advantage that the Lakers did not have before, however there is another new piece. Ron Artest, known for his ferocious defense, will be the one to guard Paul Pierce.
If there was one knock on the Lakers in 2008, it was that they were a bit soft. Kobe Bryant does not back down from a challenge but he is a superstar that does not have the same street toughness that a guy like Artest has. Pau Gasol is extremely skilled but does not bang down low under the basket as Bynum does. Lamar Odom is a tough individual raised in Queens, NY, but he can fade into the background at times. He does not always make his defensive presence known. Along side Artest, Odom has become a more physical and aggressive player.
There is a new undertoned toughness for the Hollywood star-studded Lakers. It is what was missing two years ago. It does not mean Kobe will not provide some showtime, just that there will be more of a theme of physicality. It has already been seen this year, on January 31. Artest and Pierce played each other aggressively the whole game, starting with a shoveing match before the ball was even tipped.
Pierce says he knows how Artest plays and he is used to the antics. That may be, but if the 2008 Finals MVP is going to add to his trophy case he will have to work for it every game. Just as Ron Artest has never had anything come easy to him. There are no easy baskets when Ron Artest is the man standing in front of you.