Ron Artest doesn't know what to expect in round 2 against Kevin Durant
After delivering the first knockout punch, Lakers forward Ron Artest says he can't anticipate how Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant will strike back.
After Artest held Durant to 24 points on seven of 24 shooting in the Lakers' Game 1 87-79 victory Sunday over the Thunder, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson equally chalked up the outcome to Artest's tough defense combined with Durant's poor shooting.
And after Artest proved his worth on the big stage, he refused to delve into it.
Said Artest: "I just move onto the next day."
That's what will make up this matchup intriguing for the rest of the series, including Game 2 tonight (7:30 pm. TNT). Artest has provided a fair amount of defensive consistency, with his toughness and holding marquee players under their season average, including a five-game stretch in February against Pacers forward Danny Granger, Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Dallas' Shawn Marion, Memphis' Rudy Gay, Boston's Paul Pierce and Golden State's Corey Maggette.
But Durant has done his part on offense, finishing the regular season with a league-leading 30.1 points per game and finishing as the youngest player to become the league's scoring title. He scored at least 30 points in 47 games and went on a 29-game stretch this season where he dropped at least 25.
Both the Lakers and the Thunder have seen the consequences when their respective star isn't on their game. Artest suffered from inconsistency in January when his plantar fasciitis affected his speed and quickness. The Thunder has gone 0-7 when Durant doesn't score at least 20 points.
Therefore, it's hard to anticipate how this matchup between the bear and the hunter will turn out. In the Lakers' 3-1 season series against Oklahoma City, Artest held Durant to an average of 25.8 points per contest, his fourth-lowest total against any opponent. But each game brought different wrinkles. In the Lakers 101-98 overtime victory Nov. 3 against Oklahoma City, Durant scored a team-leading 28 points, but Artest held him scoreless in the fourth quarter as well as in overtime. In the Lakers' 111-108 victory Dec. 22 against the Thunder, Durant had 30 points on 11 of 19 shooting, but Artest forced him to foul out with 1:31 to play in a game OKC could've used his last-minute theatrics. In the Lakers' 101-85 blowout win Nov. 22 over Oklahoma City, Durant became a non-facor with 19 points. But in the Lakers' blowout 91-75 loss to March 26 to the Thunder, Artest's defense was a non-factor, resulting in Durant dropping 26 points.
Through all the uncertainties, there's one thing that remains clear. The success or failure of both Artest and Durant will likely become the game-changer, much like how it turned out in Game 1. But that question won't be answered until the next contest begins.