“He’s a long … ,” the Suns defensive whiz said of Durant, chuckling while still on his back getting stretched Thursday night.
Amare Stoudemire, playing for the third time since knee surgery a month ago, had 23 points and 11 rebounds as Phoenix rallied past the SuperSonics 106-99 in the home opener of the Sonics’ 41st and most awkward season in Seattle.
But all the Suns were talking about afterward was Durant and his 27 points in his second NBA game. Specifically, they marveled about how long the skinny, 6-foot-9, 19-year-old is in arms, legs—and fearlessness.
“Oh, he ain’t shy to put that thing up,” said Shawn Marion, who had 14 points, 11 rebounds and the good fortune of rarely guarding Durant until getting a key steal from him late. “You shoot 23 times, you can get 27 points, easy.
“He’s a LONG guy.”
“Just before the game, they said we’d lost seven of eight season openers,” Hill said, correctly. “It’s seven out of nine now.
“They controlled the game. We just kind of locked down there for that three-, four-, five-minute stretch.”
Chris Wilcox had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Seattle, which blew a nine-point lead it had late in the third quarter one night after getting blown out late in its opener at Denver.
Durant, who said he is seeing fewer double-teams in the NBA than he saw last season at Texas while becoming the national college player of the year, made a 14-foot jumper over Hill with 4:15 left to cut Phoenix’s lead to 93-90. After Bell made with a 3-pointer, Durant answered back with his own 3 to keep Seattle within 96-93 and the home crowd roar.
“It was fun. The crowd was into it,” Durant said. “They were going since the tip.”
But with the score 98-93, Durant had the ball stolen by Marion. Then he charged into Bell for his sixth turnover with 2:11 left. Nash then made his third 3-pointer in three tries and Seattle never got closer.
Asked if he was surprised by his 27 points in his second NBA game, following 18 the previous night, Durant sounded incredulous.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “I know my abilities.”
Just for fun: Michael Jordan had 16 points in his NBA debut and 21 in his next game in 1984.
The night began with fireworks exploding beneath the scoreboard and fans flashing green-and-gold signs such as “This City Needs the Sonics.” The crowd, announced as a sellout of 17,072 though there were a few empty seats upstairs, erupted into chants of “Save our Sonics!” during play in the second, third and fourth quarters.
Team chairman Clay Bennett, who will announce Friday his next move toward relocation to his native Oklahoma now that his deadline to get a Seattle-area arena deal passed Wednesday, watched it all from a suite. He talked most of the night with Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, a Sonics regular and resident of suburban Mercer Island, Wash.
The Sonics continually ran inbounds plays for Durant, who had equaled his opening-night total of 18 points by halftime. He made a 14-footer off a set play 4 1/2 minutes into the second half to reach 20 points and put Seattle ahead 66-61. Bell—who was giving up five inches to Durant—extended both arms with his palms toward the arena’s roof and flashed a baffled look to Suns teammates.
Seattle took an 82-73 in the final minute of the third quarter on a 3-pointer by new arrival Wally Szczerbiak. But three consecutive 3-pointers by reserve Marcus Banks tied the game at 82 with 20 seconds gone in the final period.
“That got them the momentum,” Durant said.
Banks was 5-for-29 (17 percent) on 3-pointers last season.
“On this team, anyone can make the big plays,” Banks said.
Phoenix outscored Seattle 19-8 to take an 88-84 lead on Stoudemire’s third consecutive basket with 9:05 left. Durant was on the bench for all but the last 1:07 of that run.
“He played so many minutes last night (32) and he still ended up with 39 (Thursday),” Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “Sometimes you go back with him too soon and he’s out of gas at the end. I was trying to get to a point to let him finish the game … I didn’t think the two plays late were caused by fatigue.” ^Notes: Music star Kid Rock, 12 days removed from a fist fight at a Waffle House in Atlanta, Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell and players Marcus Trufant, Rocky Bernard, Julian Peterson, Deon Grant and Josh Brown joined Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon, University of Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar and women’s coach Tia Jackson courtside. … F-C Sean Marks was inactive after “tweaking” his back in a fall at practice Wednesday, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. … Seattle has lost its last three home openers. … The Suns open at home Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.