Lakers forward Ron Artest battles Thunder forward Kevin Durant for possession… (Larry W. Smith / EPA )
Reporting from Oklahoma City — It has become a challenge to get Ron Artest to explain anything, whether he has played well or poorly.
But after the defensive job he did on Thunder forward Kevin Durant on Sunday, Artest was surrounded by reporters looking for answers.
Artest had limited Durant to 21 points on eight-for-20 shooting.
So what happened, Artest?
"A lot of screens early. I was getting hit," Artest said. "His team, they did a good job getting him open early. Then later, they weren't hitting me with those screens. I'm in pretty good shape, so I can get hit all day, run all day."
OK, that explains some of it.
But Durant leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 28.6 points per game.
Artest made sure Durant didn't get close to his average — again.
"I don't mind somebody scoring 50 on me," Artest said. "I mean, that's never happened."
Artest looked up and smiled.
"If a player busts me up on the court and kind of destroys me offensively, then, 'Great game.' It doesn't happen often, in my 12-year NBA career," Artest said. "I don't know what NBA player can say that."
Before they became teammates in 2009, Kobe Bryant and Artest had their share of battles.
Now they work together.
Most of the time it is Artest who defends the opponent's best wing player.
"He's been doing an incredible job defensively," Bryant said. "He knows exactly what we expect of him — which [is] to just make life difficult for the opposing player.
"It's tough because they are going to get looks and they are going to run things for them to free them up. But you just try to make it as tough as you possibly can. He's doing a fantastic job of it."
In two games against the Thunder this season, Artest has held Durant to 22.5 points on 36.3% shooting.
In Bryant's eyes, some of that is Durant missing shots and some of it is the tough defense Artest plays.
"It's always a combination of both," Bryant said. "Durant had some shots that he missed and he had other opportunities where Ron was on him and bodied him. It's always a combination of both."
Artest had 10 points on five-for-10 shooting.
He also had three turnovers.
"I thought Ron played well," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "He took ball inside and lost it a couple of times. Obviously, those are things we don't want to happen. But his defense was good and he shot the ball well."
Defense is where Artest made his money again.
He had two steals, the biggest coming when Artest stripped the ball from Durant with 49.9 seconds left in the game and the Lakers leading, 90-87.
"He is able to use his strength and get himself through picks and keep a body on a player like Kevin, who is an extremely good scorer," Jackson said. "When Ron can use that strength to keep his body on people, he can be very good."