It was hard to know how to feel when Ron Artest started the first quarter of Game Two shooting 6-for-8 from the field, draining jumpers from any and everywhere on the court.
On one hand, you don’t want Houston’s emotional leader and second-best scorer (sorry Aaron Brooks) coming out white hot in a pivotal game, especially after the start the Rockets got off to in Game One. But on the other hand, every shot Artest is taking is a shot that Yao Ming isn’t, and even the most prolific of shooters have a hard time keeping up a 75 percent clip over the duration of a game. You have to figure he’s going to regress to the mean, which he did. Artest finished the final three quarters hitting just two of his last 12 shots and the Trail Blazers won 107-103.
So maybe the decision makers on the Portland bench where happy to see Artest dialed in during the first quarter? Not exactly. Nate McMillan took no pleasure in seeing the “Tru Warrior” canning perimeter jumpers, but he couldn’t get too upset about it either.
“They were tough, contested shots,” said McMillan. “He had a good rhythm. But in that situation, I didn’t think we could play any better defense than we were playing. We did tell out guys to try and get closer. He’s hot, he came down in transition and made three’s, so get a step closer.”
So McMillan was happy to give up those shots? No chance.
“You don’t live with it,” explained McMillan, “but you get closer. We’re not going to go crazy in situations like that because they were tough shots. You got a hand up, it was off the dribble, it’s over the defense, it’s over the top.”
You’ve got to pick your poison when playing playoff basketball against quality teams like the Rockets. But sometimes, the poison picks you, so you do your best as a team to take away everything else, something Portland did well Tuesday night.
“You adjust,” said McMillan. “We were dong a pretty good job in the post. (Artest) was hot from the perimeter. I think if a player is shooting the ball like that you feel that you have a better chance of defending that than something much closer to the basket. We felt like the defense was good. We were keeping them out of the paint. They weren’t getting clear looks at the basket, layups and free throws early. And they were jump shots that had a hand in their face. So you live with that.”
After the way Game Two played out, you might get to thinking the Trail Blazers would consider giving Artest a few open looks early just to see if he’ll have a repeat performance, but that’s not the way McMillan goes about his business.
Said McMillan: “We know (Artest) is capable of knocking those shots down, but as long as we were there in front of him with a hand, you have to live with it.”
If Game Three plays out the same way as Game Two, that might not be such a bad life to live.