Late scratch of Kevin Durant overshadows Devin Booker’s 44 in Suns win

Mar 8, 2023, 11:24 PM | Updated: Mar 9, 2023, 11:26 am

PHOENIX — Children were incessantly chanting “KD! KD! KD!” The public address announcer and in-arena host were hyping the crowd up, teasing them that they knew who they were in attendance to see.

Wednesday was deservedly built up for the home debut of Kevin Durant and it continued before the game inside Footprint Center. It was set to be Durant’s fourth overall appearance for Phoenix after he had already gotten off to a quick start of proving why many believe that no one has ever been better at basketball before while having a Suns jersey on.

Following all the hype, though, an injury in pregame warmups quickly screeched the night to a halt. Durant had tweaked his left ankle and was a late scratch.

A basketball game still had to be played, a 132-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but a lot of minds were elsewhere.

Durant’s usual pregame warmup slot has been 75 minutes before tip, and the veteran wing came out for his usual work. After getting some jumpers up, he went around to four different spots on the floor for mid-post work.

The fourth and final one was on the left baseline. Durant made a move toward the basket on one of his first attempts, and when he planted his left foot, there was a roll of that ankle that created a slip.

Everyone looking on was mortified. Multiple heads were in hands. Surely that did not just happen? (For reference, I’ve watched players individually warm up for seven years now and it’s only the second time I’ve seen one slip and fall.)

But before any more reactions could even begin formulating, Durant was already up off the floor after just a few seconds. He didn’t look panicked or in pain, a reaction that would have suggested something serious. Durant untied and retied his left shoe and went right back to his baseline spot and continued his work less than 30 seconds after taking a tumble.

He was not grimacing or showing any signs of that left ankle bothering him as he finished out the rest of his work.

“It’s happened to me before in the summer,” guard Devin Booker said of tweaking an ankle during a workout. “Especially Kev, he goes full speed in every workout that he does. Things like that can happen. I thought he slipped at first but you’ve obviously seen the video. He turned it.”

To be clear, this was not a failure to clean up a wet spot by the Suns staff. Those people are locked in, always paying attention when players are on the floor. Anything that would have created that type of slip (like an earlier fall) would have been wiped up. A drip or two of sweat is not doing that, and like Booker said himself, Durant turned it.

About a half-hour later, 30 minutes before tip-off when starting lineups need to be announced, Durant was initially in. Twelve minutes later, the Suns announced he was out.

Durant did not join the team on the bench as he did when he was working his way back from an MCL sprain in his right knee.

Head coach Monty Williams did not have an official update after the game beyond saying Durant will undergo more testing on Thursday for the “ankle sprain.” The Suns listed it as “left ankle soreness.”

Williams avoids the hoopla of big moments like Durant’s home debut getting major attention before the fact, so that part of a letdown didn’t factor into his reaction.

“He’s out there working his tail off and he’s getting ready for the game and he twists his ankle,” Williams said. “So you can’t get frustrated about that. It’s life. I feel bad for him because he feels bad. I saw his face and I’ve been around him so many times, I know what he’s feeling and I don’t want him feeling that way at all.”

Booker spoke on the debut having to wait longer and the fans who paid to be among the first to see Durant on that court playing for the Suns.

“The city’s been waiting on this,” he said. “It’s a big day. We’ll reschedule the party. I’m sure they’ll be back. The people that missed out on tonight, I tried to give them a little something to make it better.”

The clock is ticking on the regular season, the 16 games left for Phoenix to figure everything out with Durant on the court. It’ll make a lot of progress on that front, even while Durant sits out (if he is indeed going to miss time). But if he’s sidelined for closer to three weeks than one, that robs the Suns of incredibly valuable on-court time to further establish continuity before the playoffs. How close can they realistically get to reaching their ceiling with only a handful of games together under their belt?

That question looms large over the next few updates in the coming days.

Ah, right. The game.

A Thunder team without Shai-Gilgeous Alexander (abdominal strain injury management), Jalen Williams (right wrist sprain) and Kenrich Williams (left wrist surgery) playing on the second night of a back-to-back was in a rough spot, even when Durant was ruled out.

But as they showed in Phoenix two-and-a-half weeks prior without Gilgeous-Alexander in a similar spot playing the night before, they’ll fight and make the Suns earn it.

Even though Oklahoma City started the game 2-of-16 and Phoenix got up by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Thunder cut it down to four midway through the second quarter when Phoenix’s all-bench lineup did not perform well.

The Suns should be thankful they got a white-hot Devin Booker night, as he scored 30 points in the first half to have them in a position to quickly get their lead back up to 18 4:20 into the third quarter.

Booker got back in late in the period, scored 14 more points to get balloon Phoenix’s lead to 36 and exited with 44 on 17-of-23 shooting in 28 minutes.

Part of that ballooning had to do with Terrence Ross, who showed why he’s called The Human Torch with five of his six 3s across a 5:54 stint of the second half to help him get to 24 points in 23 minutes. Chris Paul added 18 points, four rebounds, nine assists and four steals.

Williams shouted out reserve wing Ish Wainright postgame, calling his performance “phenomenal” despite Wainright shooting 0-for-3 and not recording a point. He did grab three of his nine rebounds on the offensive glass and picked up a steal and block. He was +16 in 17 minutes.

Booker has now scored 35-plus points in four straight games and has 152 points in 137 minutes.

After Isaiah Joe went nuts in the first meeting, it was Lindy Waters III’s turn for OKC on Wednesday. He drilled all six 3s in the first half and ended up with 23 points off the bench.

Phoenix hit 20 triples.

Paul often uses the phrase of “stacking up wins” in the regular season, and the Suns have reached that point this season. They’ve won 16 of their last 21 games.

I asked him if they’ve found that rhythm, like they did in each of the last two seasons.

“I don’t know. Obviously, Kev is a huge part of our team,” Paul said. “Anytime he’s not out there or other guys in our rotation, we’re gonna make do, but in order to really see what it looks like consistently, we gotta try and get our guys.”

Empire of the Suns

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before a game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena on...
Kellan Olson

Devin Booker’s lifelong dream of Nike signature shoe reportedly on horizon

Devin Booker's completion rate on his bucket list puts just about all of us to shame. A signature shoe with Nike is the next box to check.
22 hours ago
Phoenix Suns Forward Kevin Durant (35) and Phoenix Suns Guard Devin Booker (1) looks on during a NB...
Kellan Olson

What to watch in Kevin Durant’s return, closing stretch of the season

Wednesday is expected to bring the home debut of Kevin Durant and the resumption of the Phoenix Suns' incorporation process.
22 hours ago
Karl-Anthony Towns #32and Mike Conley #10 of the Minnesota Timberwolves react after Towns hit the g...
Kellan Olson

Timberwolves finally at full strength ahead of crucial matchup vs. Suns

The Phoenix Suns have a big-time game on Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have a few things coming together right now.
2 days ago
Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul, right, gets congratulations from Kevin Durant, left, and Devin Booker, mi...
Kevin Zimmerman

Mess of the West: Suns’ tiebreakers come into focus with 7 games left

Kevin Durant's return against the Minnesota Timberwolves could help the Phoenix Suns lock up an NBA standings tiebreaker.
22 hours ago
Terrence Ross #8 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Kris Dunn #11 of the Utah Jazz during the first...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns begin final 2 weeks of regular season with win vs. Jazz

The Phoenix Suns started the last eight games of their regular season with a win over the Utah Jazz on the road.
3 days ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against De'Anthony Melton #8 of the Philadelph...
Kellan Olson

Suns find winning breakthrough vs. 76ers, Devin Booker stays hot

The Phoenix Suns finally found their breakthrough on Saturday to return to winning ways and avoid a collapse in the second half.
4 days ago
Late scratch of Kevin Durant overshadows Devin Booker’s 44 in Suns win