June 7, 2023

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We were promised Phoenix in the NBA Finals. It just seems like Kevin Durant got it wrong again with the superteam

Again, not Golden State.

After Kevin Durant himself moved to Arizona and led the team, in which, with a certain fantasy, four stars were visible, they began to frighten the children with Phoenix.

Two years ago, the Suns were in the final. A year ago, they finished the season as the best team in the regular season. Since then, their young leaders have matured, Chris Paul has remained the smartest man on the court, and the arrival of one of the best players in history seemed to solve most known problems. All this seemed quite sufficient against the backdrop of confusion and misunderstandings in the Western Conference.

And exactly. Prior to the start of the playoffs, Kevin Durant’s Phoenix had not lost a single game (out of as many as eight).

The defeat of the “Phoenix” – the victory of basketball

At some point – at least I want to draw it in paint – “Phoenix” felt that he had deceived everyone. Never in history has a superstar trade before a deadline led to a title win (Rashid Wallace came to Detroit not as a star, but into an existing body).

But in this case, everything was different.

Firstly, we have entered an era of equality, when all and sundry claim the championship. Up to the teams that were given 0.3% to reach the playoffs.

Secondly, players of this magnitude are available only in exceptional cases and never during the season. And Durant himself chose the Suns back in the summer during the first exchange request, and even managed to work out with future partners.

Thirdly, there is a feeling that NBA basketball has become obscenely simplified: and indeed, where it used to take two seasons to build a team, now it is no problem to build a backbone performer in ten regular season games.

The confrontation with Denver therefore turned out to be symbolic.

On the one hand, a team that has been built for so many years – assembled through a draft, grown around a fat man taken at the end of the second round, waited endlessly for Murray and Porter to recover, looked for any opportunity to get the right roles on the cheap.

On the other hand, the Suns rely on the fact that their two key players can always run to the middle distance, jump faster and higher than the surrounding opponents and shoot more accurately than anyone else in basketball.

Formally, the Nuggets and Suns series did not give an answer to the main question. Indeed, in the sixth match, Phoenix fell apart even without someone else’s help: DeAndre Ayton was sick and did not appear on the clearing, Devin Booker was injured in the fifth game and clearly jumped out differently than before, Chris Paul dropped out even earlier …

And yet, at the moment, one can declare with relief that no, NBA basketball is not yet so primitive that it is possible to crush anyone from the sheet only at the expense of talent.

And so nothing terrible happened to Phoenix: they fell exactly where they were supposed to.

1. They failed to fully integrate Durant. KD had one of the weakest playoffs of his career – 48% from the field, 33% from 33% from the arc, and against the Nuggets he looked even worse – 45% from the field, 22% from 30%, 5 assists on 4 losses.

Compared to previous seasons, the complexity of his attempts has increased markedly: the minimum number of balls under the basket and open three-pointers, most of the shots from the middle distance, where he was opposed by several people, and the crowd gathered in three seconds. “Phoenix” constantly accelerated the pace, trying to throw as much as possible, and Durant was not entirely comfortable in such running around: he, of course, scored almost 30 points per game, but he was far from the image of a person who is called the most effective scorer in basketball history. By the last game, he had completely suffocated, which was to be expected when a 35-year-old is forced to run for 40 minutes every other day in high altitude conditions. And even when he flew, the losses spoiled the picture.