Kevin Durant made his highly anticipated debut for the Phoenix Suns against the Hornets in Charlotte on Wednesday night. Durant had been sidelined since early January with a knee injury, and the last time he played in a game he was a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
The Hornets entered the evening with a couple of intriguing storylines of their own. They had won five straight games for the first time all season prior to the tilt with Phoenix, and they announced this week that star guard LaMelo Ball wouldwith a fractured right ankle. However, the story of the evening was undoubtedly Durant’s debut.
A mid-week, non-nationally televised game against the lottery-bound Hornets provided Durant with a nice, low pressure environment to ease back into action, though there didn’t really appear to be much rust for Durant to shake off. He had a minutes restriction heading into the game, and ultimately the Suns didn’t need him to exert himself too much as they cruised to a 105-91 victory.
Spread out over five separate stints, Durant played a total of 26 minutes in Charlotte, and in that time he recorded 23 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Overall, he looked a whole lot like, well, Kevin Durant. If you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that it was his first game in almost two months, or his first game with a new team. His presence certainly didn’t prevent his teammates from eating, either.
Devin Booker led all scorers with 37 points, along with seven assists and six rebounds, and DeAndre Ayton posted a 16-point, 16-rebound double-double. Chris Paul scored just two points, but he dished out a game-high 11 assists. As long as he’s generating open looks for his teammates, the Suns won’t need Paul to score as much alongside Durant and Booker.
“It was fun,” Durant said of his debut. “I missed playing and this is the highest level of ball in the world. I’m glad I got to get back on the floor today and build towards something.”
Kelly Oubre Jr. led the way for Charlotte with 26 points and nine rebounds, while Terry Rozier added 20 points, six rebounds and five assists of his own. A silver lining for the Hornets in the loss was the continued promising play of rookie Mark Williams, who posted 11 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
Charlotte obviously wasn’t the toughest test for the new-look Suns, but Durant looking like his usual self is great news for a Phoenix team that suddenly looks like a major threat in the Western Conference.
Here’s a look at a few key takeaways from Durant’s Suns debut:
Fourth quarter takeover
The Suns held the lead throughout the course of the contest, but the Hornets made a run late in the third quarter to trim Phoenix’s lead to just six heading into the final frame. Then Durant took over. Durant played eight minutes and 11 seconds in the fourth quarter, and he scored nine points on four of six shooting from the floor during that time. Every time the Hornets scored to cut into the lead, Durant seemingly had an answer, especially early in the quarter. There was once stretch there where Durant scored four straight buckets for the Suns,
His production helped the Suns to keep Charlotte at arms’ length and ultimately walk away with the win. Most of Durant’s points in the final quarter — and throughout the game — came on his patented silky smooth jumper.
The Suns now have two bona fide stars to lean on down the stretch of games, which is a luxury that a lot of teams don’t have.
A clinic in efficiency
Durant is in the midst of the most efficient season of his career — in terms of field goal percentage — and that efficiency was on full display in Charlotte. In all, Durant took 15 shots in the game and he made 10 of them, including knocking down two of his four attempts from long range. He also made the only free throw he attempted. You’d think that if Durant was ever going to have a bit of an off game from the field, it would come after he’d been sidelined for nearly two months, but that just wasn’t the case. The dude is an effortless scorer, regardless of what uniform he’s wearing. Playing alongside another high-level scorer in Booker should work to open things up for Durant in a major way, just as Kyrie Irving did in Brooklyn and Steph Curry did in Golden State.
The NBA’s newest dynamic duo
The league currently boasts a whole lot of formidable duos, and the pairing of Durant and Booker immediately shoots towards the very top of the list. In their first game together, the pair combined for 60 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and both guys shot well over 50 percent from the floor. “To get to where we need to go, we have to be efficient basketball players,” Durant said of playing with Booker after the game, via ESPN.
The two players appeared to be very comfortable playing off of each other already. Perhaps the residual chemistry from Team USA came into play. As a pair, they’re going to be a nightmare to guard, especially in a two-man action, with the challenge compounded by the presence of Ayton and Paul. If Phoenix’s collection performance against the Hornets was a sign of things to come, the other contenders in the West could be in some trouble.
Durant close to moving up all-time scoring list
Durant will very likely make some NBA history next time he plays. The future Hall-of-Famer needs just four points to pass Oscar Robertson for 13th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Robertson scored 26,710 points over the course of his career, and Durant now sits at 26,707. He will also likely pass Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946 points) for 12th place later this season.