Kevin Durant leads shorthanded Suns to road win over Pistons

Nov 5, 2023, 3:49 PM | Updated: Nov 6, 2023, 7:20 am

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket against Jalen Duren #0 of the Detroit Pis...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket against Jalen Duren #0 of the Detroit Pistons during the first half at Little Caesars Arena on November 05, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns through injuries to Bradley Beal (low back spasms) and Devin Booker (right calf strain) will just have to endure right now. Given the lack of continuity, it’s about doing as much as they can to improve in Frank Vogel’s system while developing chemistry to make it easier for the starting backcourt to return in stride so the real process can get underway with a kickstart.

However many wins come over this stretch will be dictated by how well those two points of growth are going for them as a team.

It also helps to have Kevin Durant.

Durant has been his usual phenomenal self seven games into the year, with his best effort yet coming in Sunday’s 120-106 win over the Detroit Pistons through 41 points, four rebounds, five assists, a steal, three blocks and two turnovers on 14-for-27 shooting, his highest scoring total in a Suns jersey.

The Pistons are without an ideal experienced wing defender to match up with Durant, so the scoring goliath was able to really get into his 1-on-1 bag once he was playing at the pulse of the game. In the third quarter, he posted 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting and made all five of his free throws with three of his assists.

That countered the Pistons’ best offensive quarter of the game, 31 points, to keep Phoenix up a dozen entering the fourth quarter. Even with the Suns on a back-to-back, they were the ones to emphatically put Detroit away by extending the edge to 17 with under five minutes to go.

Detroit’s perimeter defense was rough in this one, letting persistent Phoenix drivers continuously get into the lane. Grayson Allen, Eric Gordon and Durant were all able to find an early rhythm in this one because of it.

Allen and Durant had strong first quarters before Gordon led what was easily the best shift for Phoenix this season when Durant rests in a game without Beal and Booker. The Suns were up one through the opening period before starting the second quarter with a 22-10 advantage while Durant sat, taking a nine-point lead into halftime. The Suns shot 13-for-15 at the rim in the first half, with a few of those fairly open layups for Allen and Gordon.

In the middle of all that, Josh Okogie had a terrific 13-minute stretch of the usual Okogie plays we’re used to seeing him make. He harassed ball-handlers, fought for loose balls, crashed the offensive glass and found driving lanes to slash to the basket. Keita Bates-Diop has been in Okogie’s starting place each of the last two games, and because of the need for another guard to run the offense, Jordan Goodwin has played ahead of Okogie in the rotation as well.

The Suns were solid enough defensively against a Detroit team with not much shooting that’s only threat to put pressure on the defense is guard Cade Cunningham, who was very good himself with 26 points and six assists. Alec Burks (left forearm contusion) and Jaden Ivey (illness) were both out.

Still, Phoenix was structurally sound for the most part and worked hard like in Saturday’s loss. More importantly, it avoided more of the simple mistakes leading to easy buckets that plagued them earlier in the week. A 3-4 record doesn’t properly represent how the Suns have more or less been good on defense outside of six quarters against San Antonio.

This is a tricky sequence of the year for all players except Durant, because everyone is being asked to do far more than expected with both star guards sidelined. Durant obviously can handle it and Gordon has the experience to shoulder that responsibility as well but the rest of the roster is forced to begin the year in expanded roles they weren’t brought here to take on. I wouldn’t recommend judging anyone outside of that pair too heavily until we see at least two of the Big 3 together for a few weeks.

Regardless, on that note, Goodwin and Yuta Watanabe joined Okogie in finding pockets of this game to really impact it with some nice moments for that pair after an up-and-down six games. Watanabe’s defense, in particular, has been more than fine and he had a really good afternoon on that end Sunday.

Goodwin’s being forced to handle the ball more and has been aggressive with taking shots when he’s open, which is what defenses want, so he’s still figuring out that balance. Goodwin has been at times leading the Durant-less minutes, but those were instead captained more by Gordon on Sunday and that was a much better offensive flow.

Gordon scored 21 points and had all of those by the early third quarter. Allen contributed 14 and it was 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals for Okogie.

Detroit rookie guard Marcus Sasser added 22 points off the bench with four 3s, nearly enough secondary offense to keep Detroit in the game.

New Devin Booker injury; progress for Bradley Beal

The worst news of the weekend for Phoenix came on Saturday night when an MRI came back to show Booker has a right calf strain, per Vogel pregame.

This was a moderately confusing development considering Booker missed Saturday’s game with a left ankle injury designation. He returned in Thursday’s loss after getting sidelined for three games because of a left ankle sprain sustained in the season opener, and this was after he played through left big toe soreness that originally had him questionable for game No. 1 of the new campaign.

The assumption was the cross-country flight to Philadelphia and 36-hour turnaround to playing on Saturday was too much to ask out of his ankle. But as it turns out, Booker injured his right calf in the game on Thursday.

Booker last season also returned too early from an injury, forcing him to be out for an extended stretch. After missing just three games for a sore groin last year, Booker came back on Christmas but lasted just four minutes before straining it, which forced him to sit 21 additional games. That was the longest in-season absence of Booker’s career and just the second time in his career he missed 10 consecutive games or more for an injury.

The timelines are going to be different but this could be a similar type of instance. The severity of the calf strain is key, and with a disclaimer that every injury is different, calf strains typically have a recovery timetable in the NBA of at least a few weeks. Vogel hasn’t been willing to share any information when it comes to some type of indication for how long his guards will be out.

As for Beal, back injuries are much more unique with a wide variance of an issue that can flare up at any time, but azcentral’s Duane Rankin reports the shooting guard could be back by as soon as Wednesday in Chicago for the last contest on a three-game road trip. Beal’s lengthy pregame workout on the floor prior to Saturday’s defeat certainly looked the part of a player ramping up. Remember, Beal hasn’t played since Oct. 16 in the preseason, so he needs to get his legs back too.

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