February 26, 2024

OKC KD: Kevin Durant goes ‘back in time’ in Suns’ win over Bucks


PHOENIX — Milwaukee Bucks guard Cameron Payne missed a step-back 3-pointer. Kevin Durant grabbed the rebound. This set in motion the biggest play in the Phoenix Suns’ 114-106 win Tuesday night. A highlight of the season.

As Durant turned and looked up court early in the fourth quarter, Phoenix big man Jusuf Nurkić spotted Milwaukee’s Jae Crowder crowding his teammate. As always, Crowder had been a pest, shadowing Durant during their time together on the court. Nurkić set a back screen. Crowder fell to the floor.

With a 5-on-4 advantage, Durant accelerated, stopping once Bobby Portis picked him up near the 3-point line. Durant passed to Eric Gordon on the right. Portis picked up the trailing Nurkić, running into the post. Gordon pump-faked and dished back to Durant, who realized he had an open lane.

“A run-out,” Durant said. “Guys sprint to the rim, like Nurk did on that play. You got EG open, and he’s such a great shooter, people flying at him and (they) forget about me for a split second. I’m there in the middle of the paint. It’s on me to finish.”

He did — emphatically.

Here’s how it unfolded:

1. Durant dribbled once and charged into the lane.

A 14-time All-Star, Durant is an elite shot maker, but he’s never been known as a dunker, even though he has dunked a lot. He dunked for the first time as a 14-year-old in Maryland. As a high school senior, he told USA Today he remembered closing his eyes before throwing it down. (Interesting side note: Durant said in the same interview that if basketball didn’t work out, he’d like to be a TV weatherman.)

Entering Tuesday’s contest, nearly 15 percent of Durant’s 9,636 career field goals had come on dunks, the bulk coming early in his career. (For comparison, LeBron James’ dunks account for 14.8 percent of his career field goals.) Over his first seven seasons, as he blossomed with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant finished in the top 10 in dunks four times. During the 2009-10 season, when Durant was 21, only Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh Smith dunked more.

More recently, Durant hasn’t dunked as much, mostly because of his health. During the 2021-22 season, he dunked 34 times in 55 games. Last year, he dunked 37 in 47.

“He’s obviously great at finding his spot for his midrange, but when his time (comes) to attack the rim, he tears that thing down,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said.

2. As Durant attacked, Nurkić sealed off Portis in the deep post.

In their first season together, Durant and Nurkić have developed strong chemistry. Vogel said he noticed it in training camp, and it’s continued to grow. It’s not just Nurkić throwing backdoor passes to Durant. It’s the big man setting screens at the right angle to free up Durant and others. Or, in this case, sealing off a defender, giving Durant a lane to the basket.

“I feel like we understand each other,” Nurkić said. “We just read each other really good. I’m enjoying being out there with him.”

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, keeping an eye on Phoenix’s Bol Bol in the corner, shifted right to try to contest Durant at the rim.

With Milwaukee’s Damian Lillard and Brook Lopez sitting out, the game’s best storyline centered on Durant and Giannis. Two giants of the game — literally and figuratively. Former MVPs going head-to-head, guarding each other for key stretches.

“He continues to just impress our group with his willingness to guard the other team’s best player,” Vogel said of Durant. “Sometimes it’s a perimeter guy, sometimes it’s a power player like Giannis. He wants to take on that challenge, and he’s doing a great job with that.”

Per Statmuse, it marked the 19th regular-season meeting between the two. Durant had the edge in wins with 11.

Durant on defending Giannis: “You can’t focus on a few things. Some players are so good that regardless of the scouting or their (tendencies) you just got to play the game and not try to think too much. You can’t dictate what these great players are going to do. You can’t force them a certain way. You just got to go out there and play extremely hard and physical.”

Giannis on defending Durant: “Obviously, it’s hard. He is one of the best players to ever play the game. Arguably, top 10 of all time. He can get to his spot, raise up and score. I think I tried everything I could to limit him as much as I could.”

4. Durant threw down a one-handed dunk with force. Giannis was called for the foul.

Footprint Center erupted. Nurkić chest-pumped Durant. Bradley Beal walked over to the basketball and punched it with each hand — one-two, one-two — in celebration.

“KD’s aggressiveness, he’s 7 feet tall, he can shoot the ball … he can do everything, man,” Beal said. “It’s a little bit unfair. I get a little jealous sometimes. Wish I was 7 feet. … Nothing he does really surprises me.  When he’s in attack mode and he’s locked in, ain’t nothing you can do.”

Durant finished with 28 points, half coming in the fourth quarter. He also had 10 rebounds and helped limit Giannis, even though the Milwaukee forward still scored 34 points. The Suns (30-21) have won 11 of 14.

“It was OKC KD,” Nurkić said in a hallway outside the Phoenix locker room, a nod to Durant’s time with the Thunder. “He went back in time.”

Told this later, Durant wasn’t having it. Oklahoma City was years ago.

“That’s the PHX KD,” he said.

(Photo: Kelsey Grant / Getty Images)





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