Nearly three weeks to the date of the trade that sent him to Phoenix, Durant finally took the floor alongside his new teammates with the Suns in town to visit the Hornets. The result? A convincing 14-point victory in which the two-time Finals MVP got back to doing what he does best, finishing with 23 points in 27 minutes on tidy 10-for-15 shooting.
I mean, is there a sight purer than Kevin Durant being Kevin Durant?
That Durant showed little signs of rust in his debut — which doubled as a return from an eight-week absence — is an exciting development. And the potential of his pairing with Devin Booker, who, by the way, went for 37 points of his own, is downright scary.
Phoenix took care of business to keep pace with the top teams in the West, but Wednesday night was about much more than that.
As you might expect, the palpable buzz in the Spectrum Center was present hours before Durant even stepped on the floor to warm up. Media piled conference rooms and crowded the sidelines to check out what otherwise would have been a routine Wednesday night game.
Simply put, the moment Durant stepped foot on the floor in a Suns uniform, the pressure became real.
Durant acknowledged as much following the game, sharing that he was nervous before getting back to action — not for fear of injury, but because of the pressure that he puts on himself.
“I always feel like I got to prove myself to my teammates and my coaches every day, no matter what I’ve done in the league,” Durant said of his nerves. “I feel like it’s pressure on me every day. And I put that on myself internally.”
With a player like Durant comes lofty expectations. And for a Phoenix team that has struggled to the point it was counted out this season, Durant immediately makes a title seem within reach.
That’s what Wednesday’s game was about.
Durant came back just in time for Phoenix’s final 20 games of the regular season. A 20-game runway over the next six and a half weeks is just what the Suns need in order to become playoff-ready and compete for a championship.
It may seem outrageous to levy such expectations on a team that has such little time to get it together, but if there’s any group that understands the value of maximizing a championship window, it’s the one that has a core that fell two wins shy of a title just two years ago and added a superstar that was seemingly cruising to a three-peat before injuries derailed his path in 2019.
Some may say that the Suns are playing with house money this year, but the team made it clear: the expectations are to win and to win big.
Goodnight, Suns fam 😁 pic.twitter.com/z84CTIpB5M— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 2, 2023
Phoenix’s circumstance is quite unique — the move to acquire Durant is one of the biggest midseason deals in the history of the league, and everything that comes with it should reflect that.
Given how jumbled the Western Conference standings have been all year, Durant gives the Suns the boost that can allow them to separate themselves with respect to seeding, and the timing of his return should give the team enough time to get acclimated with one another in order to click on all cylinders when it matters most.
Durant’s outing in Charlotte was only one game, but it was the one step that Phoenix needed to make in the direction of its goals. Given that there’s no time for wasted movements, every step matters.
The Suns have started off on the right foot.