PHOENIX — Once Kevin Durant got through a clean warmup and rid his jitters for his first home game with the Phoenix Suns, he expected he would get back on track.
Durant was a victim of a freak accident three weeks ago, when he sprained his left ankle in pregame warmups for what was expected to be his first home game. Fans held their breath as Durant completed his warmup Wednesday and played his first contest at the Footprint Center with the Suns, which he said caused him to lose sleep in excitement.
He had an off performance, as he missed his first six shots and shot 27 percent (5-of-18) for the game. Durant insisted he would recover and did so Friday night.
Durant finished with a team-high 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting in the Suns’ 100-93 win over the Denver Nuggets, their fourth straight victory. They improved to 42-35 and now have a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.
The Suns also improved to 5-0 with Durant in the lineup and have five regular-season games left to improve their chemistry before a highly-anticipated postseason run.
Durant was much more comfortable against the Nuggets. Even though his opponent did not start MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and three other starters — point guard Jamal Murray, forward Michael Porter Jr. and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — Durant was assertive and got to his spots with ease.
He had 19 first-half points and shot 6-of-8 from the field in the first two quarters. After he played 29 minutes Wednesday night, Durant played 33 minutes Friday and should be closer to being off a minutes restriction designated to his return.
Durant was available postgame and offered his perspective on his game. You can look at his full quotes below.
If he felt more settled in for this game:
“Definitely felt better. It felt really good to make shots. I like how we played the first half, but it was a bad second half for us.”
On what he felt went wrong for the Suns in the second half, when they saw a 27-point lead fall to as few as four points:
“We just let our foot off the gas just a little bit, and they was just playing extremely hard. They got I think, just two fast-break, open-court steals and that got them going a bit. They didn’t make threes in the first half, so they made a couple there and it kind of cut the lead and gained some momentum. We got to just do a better job of just sticking with it, sticking with the game plan…”
If he and the starters are still feeling each other out:
“Nah. I think we got solid looks, we just didn’t knock some of them down. We called some good sets and were getting some good actions, but still got to make the shot. So I wouldn’t say we lacking in chemistry or anything like that. When the shots go in, it feels like everything is working well for you. We got stops when we needed to. (Suns starting guard) [Josh Okogie] hit a big three in the corner and sealed the win. So we made some solid plays there in the fourth.”
If he focuses on anything specific with building continuity and cohesion with his teammates:
“Just being there on the defensive game plan. Just making sure I’m locked in on what the coaches need me to do on the defensive side of the ball, and then just let my offense flow. I think that’s what I did differently this game as opposed to last game. We all stick to that mindset, though. I think everybody is trying to do their job on the defensive side of the ball. We run a lot of good sets, and we played off the pass so everybody could get an opportunity to score. So if we focus on the little things, we’ll be fine.”
If he feels he’s in a good spot with the Suns’ terminology:
“Yeah, it changes team-to-team, but it’s pretty much the same philosophies. The terminology is something, that’s probably the biggest transition from team to team. We all run the same stuff in the NBA, but we just say it a little different. So getting out there and hearing the calls, that’s only going to make me more and more comfortable with the group as I play more and get more practices in.”
On how getting to the free throw line early helped him get into a rhythm (he made 6-of-7 attempts there):
“It was huge. It’s always good to get easy ones to start the game off, put their team in a tough spot. Trying to get them in the bonus early by just putting pressure on the defense, so glad I was able to downhill and make a couple of free throws to get me going.”
On his feelings toward loud cheers when he is announced in the starting five:
“I always respected this crowd and how they supported their team and their love for the game of basketball. So to be on the other side of that is cool.”
On having a better pace and feel for tonight’s game:
“It felt like I was the rookie last game. I started off 0-for-4 and then after every shot, I kept trying to get back to 50 percent. So I’m rushing shots, taking uncharacteristic looks and it lead to a night like that. So just being patient, letting the game come to me. That’s how I’ve always been playing.”
On the play of Iowa women’s basketball player Caitlin Clark, who led her team to a win in the Final Four Friday night:
“Incredible run that she’s on. She’s playing phenomenal basketball, the team’s rallying around her. So it’s going to be a fun championship game.”
On getting wins while progressing as a team:
“Yeah, most definitely. We want to build good habits every time out, but at the end of the day, it’s (inaudible) to win basketball games. But the habits we build and the continuity that we have and the camaraderie, chemistry, all of that stuff has got to be on point. I think that’s the most important part at this time of the year.”
On how the Suns’ emphasis to share the ball has helped him acclimate:
“My whole career, I’ve played on teams that emphasize the pass and team assists and passes per game. So I just fit right in with a group that already had that mentality. So just got to do my part and have more assists than turnovers, that’s usually my goal. And we’ll be fine.”
On how Monty Williams subbed him in with fewer than four minutes left after all of the starters had entered:
“Yeah. He’s still figuring it out, I think the leash is going to come off here soon. I had 33 minutes tonight, I only got 29 last game. So hopefully, it just keep rising. He don’t even have to worry about the rotations there in the fourth or worry about me at all. That time is coming.”