EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Kevin Durant’s all-around prowess dominates OKC in Suns’ 5th straight W

Apr 2, 2023, 7:59 PM | Updated: 8:03 pm

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns blocks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns blocks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter at Paycom Center on April 02, 2023 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns are going to win a handful of games the rest of this season because of the superstar that Kevin Durant is as arguably the best player in the world.

We saw one in Dallas earlier this year and another one came on Sunday in Phoenix’s 128-118 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The win over the Mavericks was littered with elite shot-making, and while the same can be said for Sunday, Durant’s 35 points, five rebounds, five assists and two blocks on 13-of-21 shooting in 35 minutes was an all-around masterclass.

Whether it was his ball rotations, secondary reads, weak-side rim protection, spacing, two-way playmaking or any other part of the floor, he put his stamp on this game so much that it ran out of ink.

Essentially, it was Durant of all people making over a dozen little glue guy plays through the course of the night that added up over time. He does this all the time and it’s a treat to watch.

After the first quarter, Phoenix was in firm control of this game but that grip started to get slippery in the late third quarter and it continued through the mid-fourth quarter when a resilient Thunder squad got to within five after trailing by 15.

That is when it was their turn to play the Valley’s new favorite game show, “How the heck do you defend the Suns with Kevin Durant!?” *game show music plays in the background*

They did not win that game.

At 6:30 to go with the Suns up five, Chris Paul called out a pair of screens for double drag, one of the most commonly run sets in the current NBA. Everyone knows what it looks like and knows what its principles are within it to defend it.

Oklahoma City, a team that often goes small and does not have a traditionally sized center, will have its weak-side defender (the “low man”) swing over to help out on the rolling big man.

The Suns put Kevin Durant in that weak-side corner.

Uh oh!

After Durant’s first make, Phoenix had an empty trip, so Paul went back to the well. He will often spam plays when they are working, because, well, why not?

Wait! Don’t leave him!

Next time down, OKC’s Luguentz Dort, an awesome defender, stayed home this time on Durant.

But remember why he was helping in the first place? Bad decision!

Is it actually a bad decision, though, when those are all that’s available?

I don’t know. That’s for the rest of the league to decide and figure out.

The Deandre Ayton bucket put the Suns up eight, and to go back to Durant’s overall night, he and teammate Josh Okogie had two terrific possessions of extra ball movement to find an open Ayton under the basket, where he got four more points later in the quarter.

OKC, however, kept hanging around. It trailed by seven when a Devin Booker turnover at 1:45 to go opened the door just before Durant emphatically smacked it shut with a tremendous chase-down block.

To further emphasize my point on one last bit at the end of the game, the Thunder were double-teaming Booker off the ball throughout portions of the night.

This triggered their rotations off the ball, and Oklahoma City guard Josh Giddey here is simply doing what he is supposed to by covering for his teammate and going inside to make sure Ayton isn’t open under the basket yet again.

He left Durant to do it. Whoops!

The Suns shot 56.8% from the field and the combination of Booker (10 assists), Paul (eight) and Durant (five) had a combined 23 assists to the Thunder’s 21 as a team. Booker added 22 points, Ayton had 19 and Paul chipped in 16.

Oklahoma City’s Shai-Gilgeous Alexander scored a game-high 39 points.

Phoenix’s win was its fifth straight and it is now 6-0 with Durant. It puts them at a record of 43-35 in the fourth seed, the spot they are an overwhelming favorite to finish in after a very good weekend of results.

The Suns are now three games up in the loss column on the Clippers (41-38) and Warriors (41-38) with three games to play for the two latter teams and Phoenix in possession of both tiebreakers, thanks to conference record with the Clippers (24-25 to Phoenix’s 28-20) and head-to-head record with the Warriors (Suns were 3-1). That means one more Suns win locks in a finish above both teams or a loss for either cements the fate for that specific team of being unable to pass Phoenix.

Outside of the top-6 in the seventh and eighth positions, the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers are both 40-38 with four games remaining, like Phoenix.

The tiebreaker with New Orleans is to be determined, as it would go to conference record and the Suns are 28-20 while the Pelicans are 28-21. So instead of a magic number of one, that would be a two for now.

Phoenix already owns the tiebreaker over the Lakers because of Los Angeles’ 5-9 division record to Phoenix’s 9-5 mark, so one more Suns win or Lakers loss would wrap that up as well.

Everyone else below those four teams cannot catch the Suns, therefore they have clinched a top-8 seed, meaning they would have to at worst win one out of two games in the play-in tournament.

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