Since Kevin Durant first joined the Phoenix Suns in February, he’s struggled to reach the heights we’re used to seeing him reach, but that’s a testament to what he’s capable of. He’s earned hard criticisms by being so incredible for so long.
Across the eight regular season and 11 playoff games in his partial season before the summer break, Durant scored more than 31 points just four times. The 18 points on 22 shots he posted in this season’s opener had many starting to worry, albeit prematurely.
But on a Thursday night in LA where he had to be the go-to scorer without Devin Booker and Bradley Beal in the lineup, Durant reached 30 in just three quarters on 10-of-17 shooting. While I don’t think he would ever admit to it, he may have been motivated a little extra, needing 37 points on the night to pass Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th on the all-time scoring list.
Durant began the fourth — and his final effort for 37 — with a bang, hitting a pull-up jumper from deep. He started to defer a bit, dishing to other shooters who couldn’t capitalize, letting the Lakers inch back into it. Make no mistake, Durant was still impacting the game, reaching double-digit rebounds and getting a big block.
But when he finally found the switch he was looking for against Austin Reaves, Durant’s shot came up short, and LeBron James tied it at 87 coming down the other way and took a two-point lead on the following possession. Durant missed another three, and it felt like things were coming apart for Phoenix.
Still sitting at 33 on 11-of-23 with three minutes to go, the Suns and Durant had other things to worry about down four. Durant caused a James turnover (that had to be overturned for it to be so) with 2:19 left, which felt in real time like a momentum shifter.
Shortly after, he scored his first points after a long drought on a free-throw-line pull-up and gets an and-one trip the next time down, tying the game at 91 and getting Durant his 37, though he missed the free throw.
James continued his takeover, and the Suns weren’t ever able to answer back; a loss in the standings (which won’t reflect Phoenix’s shorthandedness), but an individual milestone worth spending a minute on nonetheless.
It’s also worth pointing out that Durant was +18 in 39 minutes, so the Suns were -23 in the nine minutes he didn’t play. He shot 14-of-28 (50%) while the rest of the team was just 20-of-53 (37.7%).
Durant finished with 39 points, which sets a new career-high for him in the regular season in a Suns uniform and ties his high-mark from last playoffs as well. His all-time points now stand at 26,949. He moves into 12th and is 364 points behind Elvin Hayes (played 1968-84). Health permitting, he should make his next step up sometime during November.