After 52 days of recovery, Phoenix witnessed the highly-awaited return of Kevin Durant, one of the league’s top superstars. His debut for the Suns was very positive to say the least, as he contributed 23 points to last night’s victory over the Charlotte Hornets by a 14-point margin.
“I missed playing,” was one of the first things that came out of the 34-year-old’s mouth after the contest. “I missed being out on the floor, going over strategy, just talking with the guys, the camaraderie, all that stuff. I feel like I fit in pretty well. I’ve just got to keep grinding, man, and this jersey on me will look normal as games go on. I’m glad I got to get back out there on the floor today.”
Although he was seen gasping for air at times, we were still able to see the moments of brilliance he’s accostumed us fans for the past 15 NBA campaigns. Durant dropped 10 out of 15 attempts from the floor, 50% of his three-pointers went in, won 6 rebounds and blocked the ball twice in almost 27 minutes of play.
Durant missed a total of 20 games ever since he suffered a right MCL sprain on January 8 against the Heat. His teammates surely demonstrated how grateful they feel to share the court with him.
“It’s fun, I’ll tell you that. You could feel the energy. You could feel the confidence throughout the team. That’s what the great ones do. He might not be the loudest person in the locker room, but his work speaks for itself. It’s definitely contagious from top to bottom,” said Phoenix guard Devin Booker after hitting 37 points against the Hornets. “This is one of those moments that doesn’t really feel real.”
Here are three things we learned by watching Durant’s victorious debut last night in Arizona:
3. The team should not rush his full return
While Durant is still playing on a minutes restriction, he’ll maintain his newly-adopted routine which is based on his rehabilitation. His regime will be adjusted depending on how the two-time NBA Champion’s knee continues to heal.
If the Suns wish to keep the foward healthy in the long-term, it will be quite the challenge for coach Monty Williams who should be cautious over how he handles Durant’s workload from here on out. The trainer already had to treat Booker with a similar case, as he recently sidelined the shooting guard for 21 games due to a groin injury.
The new Phoenix star could be looking at a similar scenario for Friday’s game against the Bulls, as he only played 27 minutes in last night’s debut.
2. The pressure mounting could be counterproductive
The atmosphere around the Suns is nothing short of hysteria lately, as the team jumped into the second position as the team with the highest probabilities (+450) to win the NBA title as soon as they signed KD from Brooklyn.
“You feel it at the hotel when there’s people lined up outside. You feel it in the gym. I think since I’ve been in Phoenix, I’ve felt it just build because of the improvements that the guys have made on the floor,” coach Williams said of the pressure around the team. “I’ve tried to embrace it, but one day at a time. But yeah, I feel it.”
Kevin Durant’s debut was the highest-rated TV program in Phoenix on Wednesday.
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 2, 2023
“I learned a long time ago that pressure and expectations are a privilege,” Monty continued on the subject, proving he’s aware that there is a correct way to manage these kind of atmospheres without it becoming a problem.
“You have to embrace those things. To answer your question, yeah. Just look at the room. I feel like I’m at the Geneva Convention or something.”
1. Phoenix now truly has title-contending potential
After two long weeks of expectation, ever since Durant changed cities before the latest trade deadline, we can finally say that a starting lineup that features him, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton really looked special on court last night.
“I’ve just got to still be me no matter who is on the floor,” Durant restated his confidence in his teammates. “Things were working for us when I was out there with those guys.
As they slowly creep behind the Denver Nuggets at the top of the Western Conference, the Suns are concentrated on keeping up their momentum during the final push of this regular season.
“There’s no feeling like that,” Booker said. “I think when it comes down to it, one of us will be on the court at all times, which is helpful. It’s a good feeling.”