EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Kevin Durant’s 1st big moment arrives in Suns-Nuggets Game 6

May 10, 2023, 3:49 PM

Kevin Durant (35) of the Phoenix Suns catches his breath during the fourth quarter of the Denver Nu...

Kevin Durant (35) of the Phoenix Suns catches his breath during the fourth quarter of the Denver Nuggets' 118-102 win at Ball Arena in Denver on Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

PHOENIX — How do you properly define stakes in a win-or-go-home playoff game?

For the Phoenix Suns this year ahead of Thursday’s Game 6 at Footprint Center against the Denver Nuggets, it’s different.

They went for it this year. As they should have. The hindsight future results will provide shouldn’t change that.

But the outcome none of us expected for how the trade for Kevin Durant could potentially go wrong is already at the very least materializing and taking shape in these Western Conference semis. Durant has not been as advertised in the beginning and arguably most important stretch of his stay in the Valley.

Thanks in part to Devin Booker’s grasp as the best basketball player going, Durant has yet to be Phoenix’s top performer in one of his 10 playoff games. His numbers, while still a great help to the team that paint the picture for how impactful he can be with less effectiveness, are deceiving.

I present you two stat lines:

  • 21 games: 29.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.2 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 2.4 TPG, 48.7 FG%
  • 10 games: 29.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.4 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 3.5 TPG, 48.3 FG%

The first one is his second straight championship and NBA Finals MVP from 2018. The second is this year.

There are legitimate reasons why Durant hasn’t grasped that top-three player in the world form he’s held for over a decade straight.

After playing at an MVP pace in Brooklyn, he got traded midseason and had to recover from a sprained MCL before getting three games in with his new group and spraining his ankle.

Five more games with the Suns allowed him to “tune up” for the postseason, if you even want to be generous enough to call it that. Durant got welcomed to the postseason by a bunch of physical Clipper guards who resemble fire hydrants, and more often than not, his offensive involvement looked more like him trying to score as opposed to him trying to score within the flow of the offense. That has just as much to do with his teammates and coaches as it does with him playing for a team that is partially broken and misconstructed (due to the giant midseason trade).

Greatness is supposed to overcome all that. The Suns need it from Durant. Now.

Head coach Monty Williams said after Game 3, like all of us have also presumed, that it’s coming.

“Kev is still finding his way and his rhythm,” Williams said. “He had 39, and if you look at the numbers, that’s not a typical Kevin Durant efficient game and so we still have that to look forward to I believe.”

Haven’t seen it yet.

Booker got hurt in the third quarter of Game 5 after he got hurt in the first quarter. He will be playing through multiple things on Thursday. I have learned not to doubt him, and despite the ailments, I’m not starting now.

But Booker has to get the same Durant he grew up watching, the player’s highlights he had on a loop before the NBA was even in the conversation for him. For all the intricacies this series has that I’ve rambled about in this space for two-plus weeks, that’s all this game is going to come down to.

Durant’s performance, win or loss, will set the standard.

If we see the Slim Reaper, it’s more about how any team could beat Phoenix with him and Booker as top-five players (Oh yeah, Booker’s there), whether that’s this postseason or the next one.

If we don’t, it’s a summer of wondering if we had a moment where we thought we were dreaming and we’re going to wake right back up to Booker trying to run the whole damn show again.

As much as I want to gag every time I hear Durant’s name attached to the word “legacy” from far too loud people on television, the moment has arrived. His first in Phoenix that will play a role in determining his legacy as a Sun.

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