CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At All-Star Weekend 2019, Kevin Durant confirmed his desire to team up with Kyrie Irving when both became free agents the following summer. Four years later, a new cooperation in the same arena was announced, this time with the promise of a better conclusion.
Durant showed early hints of the potential for the lethal one-two punch he can build with Devin Booker in a 105-91 victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, his first game as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
Durant scored 23 points in only 27 minutes, his jumper seeming rust-free after being sidelined since Jan. 8 while rehabbing from a right MCL injury sustained while still with the Brooklyn Nets.
“I felt like I fit in quite well; everyone out there was trying to make me as comfortable as possible,” Durant said. “I just have to keep pushing, dude, and this jersey on me will look normal as the games go.”
The most lasting impact was made by Durant’s playmaking partnership with Booker.
When they were on the field together, of course, as Booker had a fantastic all-around game with 37 points, six rebounds, and seven assists to form the kind of wing-scoring combination that the Durant deal was all about.
“This is one of those times that doesn’t seem real,” Booker added. “I mean, he just shoots the ball so effortlessly. Defenders are attempting to dispute or battle over a screen, but he seems unconcerned and unmoved.”
Durant played spells with four bench players in both half, and both times the score moved from close to double-digit Phoenix leads as he sank a succession of his signature midrange shots. He finished with a 10-of-15 shooting percentage.
Such moments, basically, made it a stress-free victory as the Suns never trailed and Durant finished up with a plus-13 plus/minus, second best on the team.
As Durant was sitting, Booker went to work, hitting 15 of 26 shots while working off Chris Paul, who had 11 assists as usual.
“It’s just very great to be able to give the man the ball and he can go to his place and hit a really solid shot,” Williams said. “I believe the team benefited from him simply being himself tonight.”
But, the game on Wednesday night was not without flaws. Fears about the top-heavy potential of the Suns’ scoring immediately showed early as just one other player, Deandre Ayton, was in double digits with 16 points.
Paul had another awful shooting night, going 1-of-8. Josh Okogie, who had held his starting job after averaging 18.5 points per game before the Durant deal, had just four points.
The Suns also hinted at a potential problem getting to the foul line with three players who specialise on midrange shots. The Hornets, who were without star LaMelo Ball due to a fractured ankle earlier this week, earned 13 additional free throws.
Kelly Oubre Jr. led Charlotte with 26 points but was only 9-of-24 shooting as the Suns kept the Hornets to 36% shooting.
Yet, the Durant rollout was a success thanks to a planned strategy that included extra practise and conditioning time as well as a game against one of the league’s lesser teams.
Despite this, Durant acknowledged to being apprehensive.
“New atmosphere, new circumstance, new teammates, I mean I always feel like I have to prove myself to my teammates and coaches every single day no matter what I’ve done in the NBA,” Durant said. “Therefore I feel pressured to be who I am every day.”