- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Ron Artest had been asked the question so many times he didn't want to answer it again.
Either that or he simply forgot what his answer was the previous three times the question came up.
You just never know with Artest.
The Los Angeles Lakers forward was being asked to describe his success against Kevin Durant, the NBA's reigning scoring champion and current scoring leader, who once again struggled against Artest's pressure defense. Durant committed five turnovers and scored 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting in the Lakers' 90-87 win over Oklahoma City on Sunday.
"I don't know, it's a weird question because they ask me the same question every time I play against Durant," Artest said. "It's the same question and I keep giving the same answer. Just go review the tape."
Artest then stopped and yelled at Lakers equipment manager Rudy Garcidueñas to get his shoes out of the team's travel bag.
"You know what? As a matter of fact I'll show you something. Hold on a second. Don't go anywhere," Artest said as he grabbed his new shoes called "BALL'N," which he said will soon be released nationwide.
Artest then asked the television reporter to ask him again what he does so well against Durant.
"It's not me, it's the shoes," Artest said, raising his shoes up near his smiling face as though it were a commercial. "Without these shoes I don't know what I'd do."
Thankfully for Artest the Lakers won and he wasn't shilling for Lamar Odom's unisex fragrance "Unbreakable" as he did after the Lakers lost to the Charlotte Bobcats or else people would twist Artest's antics as a subtle message that he wants to be traded.
The truth is there's nothing subtle about Artest. What you see is exactly what you get.
When Artest says he lives in the moment and doesn't know who the Lakers are playing next he isn't joking.
After the game, as Artest sat at his locker and put his feet in a bucket of ice, he asked a Lakers staffer when and where the team played next.
"Tuesday?" he said as if he was just finding out the news for the first time. "Minnesota? OK."
Artest claims the reason he is so effective as a defender is because he is always in the moment. He doesn't think too much about his opponent or alter his style depending on who he is playing. While everyone wants to know what his secret is against Durant, Artest is being honest when he says he doesn't have one. He simply plays him the same way he does everyone else.
"If I have a game plan then I'm going to change how I play," Artest said. "I don't mind somebody scoring 50 on me. I mean, it's never happened, but if another player busts me up on the court and kind of destroys me offensively, then great, but it doesn't happen often. In my 12-year career I don't know what player in the league can say that. It doesn't happen often. If he gets 30 one day, that's cool, but it's not just him. There are a lot of other players in their prime for years [I've played well against]."
As much as people cringe whenever Artest quickly dribbles the ball in the open court or in traffic or holds on to it a second or two too long before taking a bad shot, the Lakers didn't sign him for his dribbling skills or his outside shooting. They signed him to be a defensive stopper, and when the Lakers have needed him most he has rarely let them down.
He was a gnat in Durant's face from the opening tip, getting so close to him that Thunder players attempting to set screens drove into Artest and tried to knock him down in the first half. The problem with getting physical with Artest, who said he has aspirations to be a boxer after he retires from basketball, is he doesn't mind getting hit. If anything, it seems to energize him.
"There were hitting me with some illegal screens early," Artest said. "I was getting hit a lot. They did a good job getting him open but then later they weren't hitting me with those screens. I'm in good shape. I can get hit all day and run all day and play all day."
Artest's defensive energy seemed to permeate throughout the rest of the Lakers, who took five charges in the game, more than Phil Jackson could remember his team taking before. From a Derek Fisher patented "flop" in the first quarter against Russell Westbrook to Pau Gasol surprisingly hitting the hardwood as Westbrook drove to the basket with 17.3 seconds left, the Lakers were taking hits as though it was a playoff game.
"I can't remember our team ever taking this many charges," Jackson. "We talked to them about it, and today they did it. They missed a couple in the first half and got a couple in the second half."
After Gasol's charge gave the Lakers the ball back late, Bryant pointed toward the Lakers' basket as if he were Terrell Owens celebrating a first down, hugging Artest and patting him on the head.
"It's something we've been focusing on," Bryant said of the Lakers taking charges. "We all have to step up and do it. I've been taking a lot of them actually."
After the game, as Artest sat at his locker and went through the final stat sheet, he was still amazed at how many reporters wanted to know how he was able to contain Durant. To him the questions aren't so much a compliment as they are a slap in the face considering the career he's had as a defender.
"He's a good player but he's a young player and still has a lot of learning to do," Artest said of Durant. "I have to give 100 percent because I'm only getting older and he's reaching his prime. But it's nothing new. I play like this against a lot of people. I've been doing this for a long time."
2hMichael C. Wright