On Tuesday night, with 5.5 minutes remaining in the second quarter, it seemed as if the Kevin Durant experiment may turn out to be a failure.
At home, the Phoenix Suns were down 13 points to the Los Angeles Clippers in their first-round playoff series. Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers was on fire, making baskets from all over the court, while Russell Westbrook, who went 3-for-19 in Game 1, was back to his old self.
Once Durant was traded to the Suns from the Nets in February, the team finally looked like it should have. By halftime, the score was tied. At the 4 minute mark of the third quarter, they had a 10-point lead. They won by a score of 123–109, evening the series.
Phoenix was led by Booker’s 38 points, followed by 25 from Durant and 16 from Chris Paul.
The shooting of Phoenix made a significant impact in Game 2. The Suns improved dramatically from Game 1’s 47.6 and 31.6 field goal and 3-point shooting percentages to Game 2’s 58.8 and 41.7, respectively.
When the Clippers made a late charge, the Suns stepped up their game. Paul took a fadeaway from midrange while being heavily defended with three minutes remaining and the Clippers within six points. It wasn’t the type of shot that would have been favoured by Coach Monty Williams or the home crowd, but on this night, anything might have happened.
The Suns are a squad that needs a title badly. The team has reached the NBA Finals three times since joining the league in 1968–69: in 1976 under Paul Westphal and Alvan Adams, in 1993 with Charles Barkley, and most recently under Booker and Chris Paul. The Phoenix Suns were crowned champions three times, but each time they lost.
The Suns were 8-0 in the regular season when Durant played (he missed 18 other games, largely due to an ankle ailment), so it seemed like a good choice when they signed him to help them reach the next level. Even though they were a No. 4 seed, the Suns quickly rose in popularity as a potential champion, and they now sit as the third favourite to win the NBA Finals, after the East’s Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.
After dropping the first game of the series against the Clippers at home, victory in Game 2 was almost imperative. The best-of-seven series is still tied and will be decided in Los Angeles.
Williams acknowledged his continued apprehension, especially in light of Leonard’s 31-point performance in Game 2. If you can get the ball to your greatest player and use good court spacing, you’ll be more effective, he added. They are doing exactly that to Kawhi. It’s hard to double team him there since he shoots it right in the middle of the free throw line (the “nail”).