Kevin Durant’s slow night is not a reason to panic
The crowd in Phoenix roared as Kevin Durant walked toward the free-throw line about halfway through the second quarter. For only the third time in his career, Durant had gone 0/6 in field goal attempts, and this was his chance to score his first points in his new home court since joining the Phoenix Suns in February.
Durant sunk his first shot from the charity stripe as the cheers erupted in perfect synchrony. Despite missing the second, Durant got the momentum he needed. Minutes later, he got his first true basket, shooting over Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels, who along with Durant’s rust, made him earn his points all evening.
KD had missed the last ten games due to a warmup mishap in what would have been his home debut in Phoenix. After being sidelined by the ankle sprain for three weeks, Durant was back in the starting lineup but under a minute restriction. “I’m just glad I made it through warmups this time,” the 34-year-old told Ros Gold-Onwude before tipoff.
On the opposite side of the court was a Minnesota Timberwolves team, like the Suns, they had just gotten their best player back from the hands of injury. Karl-Anthony Towns had been absent for 114 days and 52 games. The game was nothing short of entertaining. A back and forth between two teams with postseason implications and their stars who returned to strengthen their chances.
On a slow night, the two-time Finals MVP still scored 16 points shooting 5/18 from the field. While low compared to his mean 29.2 points per game, Durant scored when it mattered. A three-point play brought the Suns two points closer (62-60) about halfway through the third frame. Minutes later, Durant gave his team the 65-64 lead from the free-throw line. The Suns would end the third quarter with an 81-74 lead and close the game out 107-100.
A slow start was inevitable for somebody who missed out on much-needed games with his new team. But finding his groove late in the game just might be what Durant and the Suns needed. The game proved that the rest of Phoenix’s cast can step up when Durant is down. Fellow starters Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Josh Okogie, and DeAndre Ayton had 29, 19, 10, and 10 points, respectively. Cameron Payne came off the Suns’ bench to score 11 points in 13 minutes of play.
The fourth-seed Suns are favored by many to win the title. However, they have six games left in the regular season to solidify the chemistry they have not built in the past month. And the next task at hand is the first-seeded Denver Nuggets, led by reigning and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic.
While Jokic’s status for tonight is doubtful due to a calf injury, The Joker has been the x-factor for Denver winning the past two meetings against the Suns. Jokic dropped 41 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists against Phoenix on Christmas and a 21-18-9 stat line on Jan. 11. However, that was Phoenix pre-KD.
Friday’s game might be a foreshadowing of who can get out of the wild wild West. If both stars are healthy and play well, fans can expect fireworks as the postseason approaches quickly.