EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns ride Kevin Durant through sloppy battle to 2OT win over Jazz

Nov 19, 2023, 9:23 PM

Kevin Durant, Suns...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns in action during an NBA In-Season Tournament game against the Utah Jazz at Delta Center on November 17, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

When all else fails, the Phoenix Suns have Kevin Durant, and that’s still going to be enough to win a lot of games this season. Sunday’s 140-137 victory over the Utah Jazz in double overtime, a mess of a basketball game, was a testament to that.

Phoenix’s half-court offense flatlined at a certain point, with horrific flow via terrible turnovers and efforts on loose balls coming up short not helping matters. But the Jazz were automatically doubling Durant whenever he would begin to approach attacking the defense, so the Suns were able to run an entire offense off of that. It was rough at first before Phoenix found the proper spacing with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, and it was solid again in overtime to put Phoenix in a position to win the game.

And when the rotations off that double didn’t yield a positive look, Durant was there as the bailout man with a contested 3 going down at under 40 seconds left in overtime to put the Suns in the driver’s seat, up five.

 

After the Jazz scored and Eric Gordon missed a 3 with 10 seconds left, fouling up three shenanigans occurred. Utah’s Lauri Markkanen made both, Gordon only knocked down one and a fitting putback by Jazz guard Collin Sexton at the buzzer for second-chance points 26 and 27 brought double overtime.

Durant then scored eight points on the Suns’ firs three possessions 91 seconds in, having the Suns once more up five. The Jazz of course eventually tied it yet again, this time at 58.2 seconds left, before a double team on Devin Booker at the free throw-line left Grayson Allen wide open one pass away for an easy 3 to retake the lead.

The Jazz got a quick two, opting not to foul down one with a three-second gap between the shot and game clock. A tremendous (yet dangerous) pass out of a double by Booker via Durant found Durant for an open 3 he failed to convert on before it was ironically the Suns and Keita Bates-Diop securing the clutch offensive rebound with one second left. Booker made both free throws, and at 0.9 on the game clock, Markkanen got it in the corner and was improbably fouled by Durant, intensifying speculation we were inside some type of simulation for an NBA fixture that would never end.

Phoenix wisely challenged, and because Durant got contact with the ball first, it was overturned, mercifully ending the contest.

Durant finished with 39 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, two blocks and seven turnovers. This was enough to overcome Utah’s 17 offensive rebounds resulting in 27 second-chance points. Toss in the Suns being unable to make up ground in the turnover department with 17 and the Jazz were +13 in shot attempts.

Since amounting to 18 points in the season opener, Durant has scored 39, 26, 26, 28, 31, 41, 25, 38, 28, 31, 38 and 39 this year.

Booker (26 points), Gordon (20), Jusuf Nurkic (18) and Allen (14) provided enough supplementary scoring around Durant. Booker added eight assists while Gordon had another six to go with two steals and two blocks.

After another sleepy start defensively two minutes in, a quick timeout from head coach Frank Vogel seemed to snap his squad out of it, playing much better overall team basketball on both ends. If it wasn’t for the last two minutes and one second of each quarter in the first half resulting in a 14-2 Jazz edge, Phoenix would have been in a dominant position. Instead, if was just up five. And that was through an opening of Booker figuring out his spots to score in with Utah offering more room than Friday while Durant had turnover issues through another really good start.

The clunkiness from those patches carried over into a third quarter that was all over the place, still ending in a one-point Suns advantage thanks to Utah having some scattered moments as well. More of the same took place in the last dozen minutes, with one-to-two possession leads from each team before the Jazz took control at 103-95 with just over six minutes to go.

But after Phoenix’s half-court offense really struggled to have the correct movement when playing off the double teams drawn by Durant, the rotations were much better in the last few minutes and Durant found Gordon for a 3 with under three minutes to go. That followed by a smooth dump-off drive to Nurkic put the Suns up three.

More traded baskets occurred and a John Collins triple tied the game at 113 with 1:22 to go. A Durant pull up placed Phoenix back in front and then Allen’s strong defense on Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson forced a miss, with the loose ball on the rebound last going off the Suns at 45.3 ticks remaining. Another one of those situations occurred the next possession, and the ball was right around Gordon before a Jazz player corralled it and was fouled. The next inbound resulted in Clarkson getting locked up by Durant, only for the blocked shot to fall right in the hands of Markkanen for second-chance points 24 and 25 to tie it again.

Phoenix didn’t call a timeout with under 15 seconds, trusting Booker and Durant to produce a good look instead of letting Utah organize its defense in a huddle. Durant briefly attacked from 35 feet before deferring to Booker with help defenders lurking and Booker got a rough shot off from the wing that didn’t go down, forcing overtime.

Vogel chose to maximize spacing off the Durant doubles in the extra period, sitting Nurkic, which paid off. A smooth ball rotation off a Durant double team in the post found Gordon for 3 and Gordon was assisted again by Durant before a Gordon trey ball made it all eight Phoenix points from him to start the overtime period less than two minutes in. Phoenix’s offense didn’t score for two-plus minutes after that but Utah didn’t find much success either, and a broken down possession forced Durant to take the aforementioned 3 before we went on the rest of this crazy ride.

While prefacing that Durant has been in MVP form to begin the season, his turnovers have been problematic, particularly for how often they are either unforced and/or lead to transition opportunities. He had five of his seven in the first half. Stars are going to turn the ball over a lot and it’s not a statistic to put much weight into but when it’s one of the weaknesses of the team at the moment you’d like to see him clean that up a bit more with Booker back to take some of the onus off him. He only produced a combined three in the previous two games Booker was back for but Sunday was the fifth game out of his 13 that Durant has turned it over at least five times in.

Considering where preseason expectations were for how Bates-Diop and Nassir Little could potentially fill the void of a 3-and-D wing in the rotation, it was surprising neither made the rotation and also a testament to how much Vogel values the shooting Yuta Watanabe brings (plus his better-than-expected defense). But Little in particular is someone who showed lots of potential across four years in Portland, to the point where a handful of smart basketball folks weren’t afraid to call him the best part of the return for Deandre Ayton.

Little’s received spot minutes on occasions when Vogel has required a source of energy from someone during a relatively uninspiring effort, and he’s been exactly what the Suns needed across those games. His activity level off the ball with his athleticism and length is terrific. It just comes down to how consistently he can knock down shots and make the right decisions in quick-hitting situations, which is where Watanabe and Bates-Diop have a leg up on him at the moment.

But with Watanabe (left quad contusion) out on Sunday, Little got more chances in 20 minutes and was reliable again with 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and three blocks.

Little’s development is a small but still worthwhile long-term item to bring up since he’s under contract for three more seasons beyond this one, unlike the majority of the roster on one-year deals (with a handful of player options for year two).

Markkanen starred for Utah with 38 points and 17 rebounds while Talen Horton-Tucker provided 25 points off the bench.

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