PHOENIX -- The tenor of Kevin Durant's long-awaited home debut for the Phoenix Suns was set long before Wednesday night's 107-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves had even started.
After suffering a hard-to-believe left ankle sprain when he slipped during warmups before a March 8 matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant was just happy to have cleared the first hurdle of making it through pregame warmups on Wednesday night. He happily bounded through the Suns' locker room and into the team's training room with a message for the waiting staff.
"We got through that s---!" he said with a mix of pride and relief.
The same can be said after watching Durant have an uncharacteristic shooting performance, shooting just 5-for-18 from the field and scoring 16 points in 29 minutes. After it was over, Durant acknowledged some jitters before his first home performance in Phoenix.
"It was hard for me to get sleep today," Durant said. "It was hard for me to stop thinking about the game. Sometimes you can want it too bad. And you come out there and play like you start rushing and start being uncharacteristic. I'm glad I'm back. I'm glad I'm into the zone of playing again and being around the guys and being one of the guys again, just keep building from here."
Durant started 0-for-6 from the field and didn't register a field goal until 5:23 left in the second quarter, but his coach and teammates didn't seem to mind the rust. They were just happy to have him out on the floor again.
"The whole city's been waiting on this," Suns star Devin Booker said. "It's a really special night and a big night in the history of the organization, and the fans showed the love that was deserved, so I'm happy it came in a win."
Booker and veteran guard Chris Paul discussed the openings that Durant created for the rest of the group simply by being out on the floor. They have no doubt that Durant, who said his ankle "felt great," will find his rhythm in no time -- which is good news for a Suns team, now 41-35, that has just six regular-season games left and is fourth in the Western Conference standings.
"You look at the shooting numbers, you're like, 'That's not Kevin,'" Suns coach Monty Williams said. "That's his fourth time playing in who knows how long. ... I thought he battled on both ends. I think his cardio's got to get back to the level where he wants it. Once he gets that, we'll see the Kevin that we all know."
In early January, when he was still a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Durant missed over a month after suffering a right MCL strain when Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler fell into his knee in early January. He missed close to another month while waiting for his ankle to heal. Despite the setbacks, he laughed off the idea that he had been cursed by the injury bug given the randomness of his latest injuries.
"Look at my life -- somebody cursed me?" Durant said with a smile. "My life looks pretty good. You can't say that though, man. When I leave this arena, my life look pretty good. But it's just part of the game. It is what it is. It's unfortunate. I felt like I was gonna play 82 games this year, but it is what it is. I learned how to conquer different parts of the game. Rehab is one of them, so I just try to do my best in that and come back and pick up where I left off."
Williams and his new teammates could sense some of the jitters that Durant was trying to shake off throughout the game.
"He's used to making every shot and he just doesn't miss," Williams said. "If you watch him in practice and his warmups, his workouts, he doesn't miss a lot of shots. He's a rare breed. He's one of the few guys that feels like he should make every single shot. My job is to encourage him when he doesn't because there's more to his game than offense, even though he's one of the greatest offensive players you've ever seen. I'm sure he was [jittery], because he wants to make every shot."
With Durant back in the fold, the Suns are steadfast in the belief that their best days remain in front of them. The group knows that Durant has the ability to take them to another level this season, and Wednesday's game offered another reminder of just how much better the group can be even when the future Hall of Famer is having an off night.
"It's confidence for everybody," Booker said of having Durant back. "Even when he wasn't playing, he was just on the bench, I feel like a lot of us, minus CP, grew up watching him most of our lives. So the respect for what he's done for this game and what he's done for I know me personally is there, and you just want to perform. ... He's one of the best to ever do it."