EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Kevin Durant recharges Phoenix Suns offense in win over Jazz

Oct 29, 2023, 12:10 AM

PHOENIX — The Arizona sports mojo was percolating through Footprint Center on a special Saturday night in downtown Phoenix.

The Arizona Diamondbacks decisively won Game 2 of the World Series 9-1, inspiring cheering from random sectors of the arena whenever a run was scored and a loud “Let’s go D-backs!” chant shortly after the final out was recorded.

Less than 10 minutes later, the Phoenix Suns unveiled their new Ring of Honor banners at halftime, with all the marquee names like Charles Barkley, Jerry Colangelo and Steve Nash in attendance for the ceremony.

For good reasons, that made the home opener against the Utah Jazz feel like it had far less significance, but Kevin Durant did his best to drag some into a 126-104 win.

Durant, donning the Superman cape he has endless experience wearing over the years, shouldered a high offensive workload for the second straight game without Bradley Beal (low back spasms) and Devin Booker (left ankle sprain).

He was absolutely tremendous. And here’s the thing: He only took 11 shots.

After a 39-point effort in a Thursday loss Phoenix dominated through three quarters when Durant was on the court, the offense completely collapsed in the final frame, generating just three points in the first 10:05.

The rhythm and flow to it was nonexistent, an unsurprising development considering how the Suns are not designed around just Durant and have hardly practiced that.

But with two days for a better game plan to materialize and plenty of correctable tape to analyze, Phoenix looked smooth as can be with Durant at the helm.

Mixing in more of Durant starting possessions on the ball to serve as an initiator, while also positioning him through his off-ball motions in a better way to be a playmaker, the Suns (2-1) throttled the Jazz (1-2) with 37 points in the first quarter and 69 across the next two periods.

“Perfect balance,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said of how Durant played. “First of all, every post double team that he gets, we should shoot wide-open 3s or get dunks on the back side, and we did a much better job with that. He did a phenomenal job early in the game facilitating for his teammates. And then everybody else gets involved, makes a couple shots and then they’re a little charged up more on the defensive end and he doesn’t have to do so much.

“I thought we all leaned on him too much in the Lakers game, and a far better result tonight.”

All of this really helped Phoenix’s huge issue with turnovers two games in. The 39 turnovers were the most Phoenix had over any two-game stretch since March 2021, but the Suns cleaned that up with only 11 to go along with 31 assists. The Jazz, meanwhile, had 19 the Suns scored 30 points off of.

With the matchup problems a jumbo starting lineup form the Jazz presented, Durant actually took on the primary cover of All-Star Lauri Markkanen. Durant got mixed up on a few catch-and-shoot 3s but other than that did a solid job on him. You will guess correctly on what his defensive-minded coach thought of that.

“That’s what he asked of me in our very first conversation this summer, that we don’t have to hide him so he can carry an offensive load and put another guy on the other team’s best player,” Vogel said of Durant. “He said if that’s the matchup, he wants it. He wants to guard the other team’s best player and tonight was a perfect example of it.”

It was not quite the lights-out, unfazed response to a rough loss like the D-backs in Arlington but was certainly the Suns’ own much smaller version of that, and it was led by No. 35. Durant finished with 26 points (8-for-11), four rebounds, seven assists, a block, a steal and two turnovers in 29 minutes. He was +30.

Phoenix’s start was greatly aided by a bounce-back night from veteran guard Eric Gordon, who was 10-for-32 on the year before making six of his first seven shots and ending the night at 9-of-14 shooting for 21 points, with all of those points coming in the first half.

Grayson Allen, the other guard starting in place of Beal and Booker, was also off to a slow start in this campaign but he really got going in the third quarter, scoring 14 of his 17 points over that time.

The Suns were up 16 at halftime before an 11-0 run to open the second half all supplied by Durant and Allen blew the game open. Utah, on the second game of a back-to-back after a hard-fought win at home against the Los Angeles Clippers, didn’t have the prerequisite wind in their sails to mount a comeback.

It was another really good night for Jordan Goodwin, the combo guard who is in the running for best defender on the team. He’s showing a lot of good signs when it comes to making the right play offensively and keeps finding a way to impact the game elsewhere through his unreal motor. He finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.

“He’s just gonna play the right way. … You don’t see that a lot in the league, the fundamentals like that,” Durant said of a specific play by Goodwin in the game.

There aren’t many guard minutes to go around after Allen, Beal, Booker and Gordon but Vogel will need to keep finding some for Goodwin once the Suns get healthy.

Drew Eubanks had a wobbly open to the year himself but this was a great night of the backup center leveling himself out with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Saturday was a big improvement in those short roll/midrange areas when it comes to scoring and passing, places he has to be proficient in like Jusuf Nurkic.

Pregame, Vogel offered no updates on Booker and Beal beyond sharing how hard the duo is working with trainers. He declined to go into specifics or share a timeline. Both seem more like day-to-day injuries based on what we’re used to seeing with those types of injuries but the lack of information makes it impossible to offer any concrete details.

Beal has yet to play in the regular season while Booker played in the season opener on Tuesday before injuring his ankle in it, resulting in him missing the last two games.

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