The Phoenix Suns and Kevin Durant get their 4th straight victory and remain undefeated with Kevin in the lineup.
On the road in the place where he started his career, Durant returns and finally gets to play against the Thunder as a member of the Suns.
After the trade KD was supposed to make his debut after the All-Star break against OKC and the Suns decided to hold him out.
Then of course, the freak ankle turn in his pre-game warmup was supposed to be his home debut against the OKC Thunder, and Durant had to be a late-game scratch and went on to be out another three weeks.
Now after being back from the ankle injury, the team is on a four-game win streak on the road in his former home that he built, dropping 35 points 5 rebounds 5 assists, and a 128-118 victory with the fans booing every time he touched the ball.
In one part of the game during the fourth quarter while the Thunder was shooting free throws, KD stood and a fan in the front row began to heckle him, Durant just gave a gesture flicking his right ear as if to say “I can’t hear what you are saying” then he finished with a hand motion of a mouth talking as if to say the fan was just talking too much.
Then KD proceeds to the opposite end and knocks down two corner three-pointers that helped seal the game, that fan had nothing else to say after watching those three’s hit nothing but the net.
The Suns got killed on the offensive rebounds in this game, as they gave up 13 offensive boards that lead to 25 OKC points, and then another night of huge margin free-throw disparity (41 to 28) allowed the Thunder to stay in the game.
The starting five carried the heavy load of scoring all having double figures except Josh Okogie, and the bench was able to edge out the Thunder’s reserves (32-30) getting contributions from seven guys off Monty’s bench.
Phoenix is starting to round into shape as a unit, although they are not completely there yet, it can be seen how the team spacing is opening up so much on the offensive end.
Kevin Durant after the game spoke with beat writer Duane Rankin of AZ Central concerning his return to OKC and what he thinks of the young squad.
During the course of the final games of the regular season, there are moments as they gel tougher that allow them to get Playoff ready by being in Playoff-like situations, and with that, you can see the leaders on the team (Booker, Paul, and KD) start to demand more from the guys and push excellence as they lead by example.
We saw a Playoff-like moment when Durant made a defensive play that sealed the game as the Thunder was making a late run.
The ball was thrown in the backcourt to a wide-open Shai Gilgeous-Alexanader off a Suns turnover, and KD raced back and made a block of the dunk attempt and the suns got possession and stopped the Thunders’s momentum.
Plays like that are what makes the great ones great, and this is why they can demand from their teammates the same effort.
Late in the fourth quarter Shai made a split through the Suns defense and drew a foul on the play, and he split between KD and Deandre Ayton, appearing that DA was out of place allowed SGA to split the defense, instantly KD shouted out “DA” and some other encouraging (but stern) words letting him know he was not in the right place.
Then we see Devin Booker playing with the reserve unit and their execution was very sloppy, and the Suns took a timeout and while walking back to the bench Booker is seen yelling at all of the other guys coming off the floor for a lackluster effort on the defensive end.
Moments like this are the things that make a championship team, constructive criticism and how guys handle it will be critical for the gelling of this team in such a short period of time.
In other words, there is no time for playing around, the Suns have to build playoff-winning habits through adverse situations like a tight game down the stretch.
Superstars are usually the culprits that have to handle these types of situations, where they have to be stern and also lead by example and at the same time be encouraging to teammates and not over critical.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how this Suns team will gel before the Playoffs, and nice to see the leaders lead and guys respond the right way to their demand for excellence.