Commentary

A 24-shot clocking

It took Oklahoma City's Durant 24 shots to score 24 points

Updated: April 19, 2010, 9:48 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Kevin Durant & Ron ArtestNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhere Kevin Durant went on Sunday, Ron Artest wasn't too far behind.

Kevin Durant was showered, dressed and ready to get out of Staples Center and put his first career playoff game behind him as quickly as possible.

He didn't play poorly, but he didn't exactly take over the game -- or the series -- like he has so often and so prolifically this season. Twenty-four shots to get 24 points. Four turnovers, 1-for-8 from behind the 3-point line and the sight of Ron Artest's bleach-blonde hair still lingering in his head.

Yup, Durant wanted to go. Like, now.

But as was the case during the Lakers' 87-79 win over the Thunder, his timing was off. Lakers coach Phil Jackson was still in the interview room, taking what seemed forever as Durant waited in the hallway.

"I mean, I got good shots," he said to a team official waiting with him outside the interview room. "Good looks, you know?"

Finally, just as Durant was getting a little fidgety, Jackson wrapped things up, walked slowly out of the room, and Durant was led onto the podium.

"It was a tough one for us tonight,'' he said. "We never really got going offensively."

Though he preferred to blame himself and his shooting touch for the 14 shots he missed in Game 1 of this first-round Western Conference playoff series, it was obvious a certain 260-pound blonde had something to do with it.

That would be Ron Artest, the burly, sometimes batty small forward the Lakers signed in the offseason to help lock down talented scorers just like the 21-year-old Durant, who became the NBA's youngest scoring champion this season.

At times Sunday it seemed Artest's entire focus was on Durant, on chasing him through pick-and-rolls, making him uncomfortable, on getting something -- a hand or an arm or an elbow -- in Durant's face every time he shot.

About the only time Artest took his focus off the lanky 6-foot-9 former Longhorn came as the final buzzer sounded and purple and gold confetti fell from the rafters. Artest stood proudly, arms on his waist, looking up into the crowd and savoring his first playoff win as a Laker. Durant walked off the court quickly, pulling his jersey out of his shorts with about three seconds left in the game, eyes down except for one last check of the scoreboard on the way into the locker room.

Durant He plays physical every time we go at it. I got some great opportunities to make shots and they didn't fall. It's going to be like that all series, I'm looking forward to it.

-- Kevin Durant on Ron Artest

"He plays physical every time we go at it," Durant said of Artest. "I got some great opportunities to make shots and they didn't fall. It's going to be like that all series, I'm looking forward to it."

Asked if Artest's constant hounding made him uncomfortable, Durant shrugged and said, "It's been like that for three years. Every defender is like that. I've learned to adjust to it. But I got to the spots I wanted to get to on the floor, I just wasn't able to finish the shots."

The key for Durant going forward is the same as it was in the regular season against the Lakers: creating more easy baskets. In the four games the teams played, Durant hit just 28.6 percent of his jump shots when Artest was guarding him, on ball, in a half-court set. That's almost 10 percent lower than he shoots jumpers against other defenders on other teams.

Though Durant dismissed Artest's presence as a reason for his poor shooting game, Thunder coach Scott Brooks admitted that his young star seemed off-kilter.

"Ron's one of the better defenders [in the NBA]," Brooks said. "If you let him stay close to your body, you're going to have trouble moving. We have to do a better job of setting screens and KD is going to have to do a better job of running him off of those screens and making him chase instead of allowing him to play his game."

Over in the Lakers' locker room, Artest was playing it cool, not cocky. His work spoke for itself, best to just show the kid some respect.

"He's a good player,'' Artest said. "If I have a little tough time guarding him, imagine what these other people do, you know.

"He's young, he just came off a scoring title. I'm not going to fool myself and act like I did anything special."

Ah, but he did. For one game at least, Artest made the game's next superstar wait.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com

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