Sometimes the hype overcomes P. J. Carlesimo, and the Sonics coach gets wrapped up in the outlandish expectations involving Kevin Durant...
All you need to know about the Sonics’ home opener Thursday night can be summed up in five words: Kevin Durant arrived, Suns win.
It took the 19-year-old rookie just two games to show why he’s heralded as the Sonics’ savior.
In his second consecutive appearance on national television and his KeyArena debut, Durant had 27 points on 11-for-23 shooting and nearly led the Sonics to an improbable victory over Phoenix.
But as good as Durant was, the Suns were a little better, especially in the fourth quarter as they erased a three-point deficit and handed Seattle a 106-99 loss in front of an announced sellout crowd of 17,072.
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“I know my abilities,” Durant said. “I just try to come out aggressive and to have fun. I think that’s the biggest thing — to have fun. I think that’s what we did tonight. Even though we came up with the loss, we learned some things tonight.”
For the second consecutive game, the Sonics played with a team that’s expected to challenge for the NBA title before falling flat in the fourth. Wednesday, Seattle was outscored 34-22 in the fourth and lost 120-103 to Denver.
This time, the Sonics had an 82-79 lead going into the final quarter, but they were overcome by turnovers and Amare Stoudemire, who scored 10 of his team-high 23 in the fourth. The Suns center played for just the third time since undergoing knee surgery last month and finished with 11 rebounds.
“When we play that hard it’s going to be rewarded,” Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “Maybe not in the first game against Denver, maybe not the second night against Phoenix, but our guys did a lot of things well.
“We still have a lot of things we need to work on and execute on the floor. I’m really pleased with our effort, just disappointed with the result.”
Still, Durant nearly pulled out the victory for the Sonics (0-2).
After consecutive jumpers over Grant Hill, the latter a three-pointer that narrowed Seattle’s deficit to 96-93, Phoenix shifted defensive stopper Raja Bell on the phenom for the final three minutes.
“He’s got the jump shot and the mind-set of a scorer,” Bell said. “With his length, he’s hard to defend because he’s catching the ball at such a hard position that it’s hard to challenge that.”
The Suns, playing their season opener, forced Durant into consecutive turnovers, which killed Seattle’s momentum. On the first turnover, Shawn Marion stole a pass and on the Sonics’ next possession, Steve Nash stepped in front of Durant and drew an offensive foul.
The Sonics failed to score for about two minutes as Phoenix streaked to a 103-93 lead with 1:15 left.
“We got to find ways to get points whether we do that through transition or do that through a called play, we got to find a way to get points,” said Sonics point guard Earl Watson, who rebounded from a spotty performance in the opener and finished with seven points, eight assists and six rebounds. “Those last six minutes have been key for us.”
Chris Wilcox had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Seattle and Damien Wilkins chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds.
The Suns countered with a balanced attack from Nash (18 points and 12 assists), Marion (14 points and 11 rebounds), Hill (13 points) and Stoudemire.
Late in the second quarter, midway through the third and early in the fourth, fans chanted “Save our Sonics,” which was perhaps a message to Sonics chairman Clay Bennett, who sat in a suite alongside Hall of Famer Bill Russell.
“The crowd was into it and they supported us 110 percent,” said Durant, who matched his 18 points in the opener late in the second quarter on a 20-foot jumper from the top of the key. “They really got going at the first tip. That’s what we need out of the fans and it was fun.”
Behind the inside-out scoring of Wilcox and Durant, the Sonics took a 58-55 lead into halftime. Wilcox shot 7 of 8 in the first half and pulled down five rebounds, while Durant exploited a soft Suns perimeter defense.
The Sonics, who play the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday, were limited because centers Robert Swift (sore right knee) and Kurt Thomas (strained right hamstring) were unavailable.
Turns out Carlesimo had little need for the injured big men in a frenetic game that was best suited for a small lineup.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Kevin Durant’s numbers from the Sonics’ home opener:|
|27||Points, game high|