PHOENIX — Just over an hour before Kevin Durant’s anticipated home debut with the Phoenix Suns, fans were observed clawing at his multitude of jerseys inside the team shop, desperate to get their senses acclimated to arguably the NBA’s best player on their favorite team.
Several children even crowded behind the Footprint Center floor to watch Durant during pregame warmups, yelling ‘KD!’ All was set for a palpable environment in what will be one of the most exciting moments in Arizona sports history.
Cheering for every make at the beginning of his warmup pic.twitter.com/9uUNVQD3M7— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 9, 2023
But then a scary moment happened.
While driving to the basket, Durant twisted his left ankle. He landed on his right foot and then the floor but did not have a reaction that would show he was seriously injured. Durant continued his workout as a seemingly catastrophic moment was avoided.
Here’s video of Kevin Durant slipping on the floor pregame.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 9, 2023
He stayed down for a few seconds but then got up and finished his on-court work. pic.twitter.com/DwTrNc6LIr
But just under 20 minutes before tip-off, the Suns announced Durant would not play at home for the first time due to left ankle soreness. The vibe of the building then went from energetic to deflated for the start of Phoenix’s 132-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night in front of 17,071 fans.
“He’s out there working his tail off getting ready for the game and twists his ankle. You can’t get frustrated about that,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s life. I feel bad for him because he feels bad. I saw his face and I’ve been around him so many times, I know what he’s feeling. I don’t want him feeling that way at all.”
Williams did not provide an official update on Durant, who he said felt bad as he received treatment before the game, other than he sprained his ankle. He said the Suns’ star forward will undergo more testing on Thursday.
Asked about the letdown to the buildup to Durant’s debut, Williams said he did not focus on it. Suns guard Devin Booker, who tried to make up to the fans who were deflated by Durant’s absence with a 44-point effort, said he is just as excited as the city is for when it will happen.
"He's fine, it's just a roll. We'll get him right and he'll have the debut another day."— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 9, 2023
Devin Booker with some assurance to Suns fans on Kevin Durant's injury. pic.twitter.com/WAZKoEgkv7
“The city’s been waiting on this,” Booker said. “It’s a big day. We’ll reschedule the party. I’m sure they’ll be back. The people that missed out on tonight, I tried to give them a little something to make it better.”
Booker and Suns starting point guard Chris Paul said they each found out minutes before the game Durant would not play. Suns fans were shocked in silence as the team took the floor in warmups and then the floor with backup forward Torrey Craig inserted as a late scratch.
That energy carried through the first few minutes of the game, when the only cheers evidently heard were when Booker and other tenured Sun Deandre Ayton were introduced in the starting lineup and the team made shots. Booker’s 44-point night somewhat saved the attraction fans hoped for, but it was impossible to make up for the big hole left by Durant’s absence.
“I know how much he loves to play and wanted to play,” Paul said of Durant. “But stuff happens.”
Still, the Suns responded with a very positive performance against the Thunder. They are now 16-5 in their last 21 games and are inching toward the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
“It was huge to have that kind of start to the game,” Williams said. “And at the end, I think because we’ve been in these situations before where there’s things that pop up, I think our guys are used to stepping up and playing a certain way and a certain style.”
The Suns have been used to adapting this season. They had Booker out for an extended period of time and had to survive with multiple role players who played more minutes.
Phoenix even had to acclimate in the days after Durant’s trade without former forwards Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, who were integral to the team’s success over the last two-and-a-half seasons.
“Once we found out he wasn’t playing, not anything against him, but we wasn’t tripping,” Paul said. “We got a lot of guys in our locker room that’s more than capable, and then we just hooped.”
Durant’s debut with Phoenix will have to wait. Suns got to meet him over three weeks ago in his introductory press conference at the Footprint Center and are ready to receive him. Durant is too.
It just did not happen yet.