CHICAGO — Kevin Durant looked at the stat sheet and didn’t realize he played 31 minutes in his second game with the Suns after having not played since Jan. 8 with a right MCL sprain he suffered while with Brooklyn.
He’s having too much fun playing with his new team.
Booker looked fresh in going for a game-high 35 points after scoring 37 in Wednesday’s win at Charlotte.
Josh Okogie was aggressive from the start and Durant blended in again with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting — and felt he should’ve made the three misfires.
With new team owner Mat Ishbia in attendance, the Suns (35-29) are now 2-0 with Durant as they pulled away in the second half from the Bulls (29-35) who are 3-7 in their last 10 games.
DeMar DeRozan paced Chicago with 31 points while Zach LaVine added 27.
Here are five takeaways as Phoenix concludes its four-game road trip Sunday against Luka Doncic, Durant’s former teammate, Kyrie Irving, and the new-look Mavericks (33-31).
Chris Paul had just two points on 1-of-8 shooting in Durant’s debut Wednesday, going 0-for-4 from 3.
Booker cooked Charlotte, Durant scored an easy 23 in 27 minutes and Deandre Ayton posted a 16 and 16 double-double.
Paul had 11 assists, but instantly, the knee jerk reaction is Paul won’t be a scoring factor with Durant on the team.
Then he had just two points going into the fourth quarter Friday on 1-of-4 shooting (0-for-3 from 3).
Then Paul did what he has done his entire career. Close the show.
Paul scored nine points in the fourth, going 3-of-4 from deep.
Dagger 3s with the final one giving Phoenix a 123-102 lead with 91 seconds left.
Fans leaving. Game over. Paul finished with 11 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
The Suns did the job defensively in allowing just 40 points in the second half with 19 coming in the fourth. That was the foundation for the win, but Paul led the offensive charge in the fourth.
Paul is perhaps having to make the most adjustments of the four starters with Durant. This is similar to when Paul played with James Harden with one huge difference. Paul and Harden worked out in the summer for a season. In this situation, he’s having to find his role in the back half of a season with Durant.
Friday was a step in the right direction, but the idea of Paul, one of the best point guards ever, being the third option is crazy.
And could be crazy good for the Suns
When Durant went out
The Suns had a comfortable 59-48 lead with 4:53 left in the half when Durant checked out of the game.
On a minute restriction, Durant played 15 minutes in the first half.
Phoenix had led by as many as 13 points.
Scored 40 points in the first quarter on 59.1% shooting (6-of-13 on 3s). The Suns last had a 40-point quarter Jan. 24 against Charlotte (40 in the 3rd).
They had 10 assists on 13 made field goals.
Okogie and Booker had it rolling early Friday, but having Durant out there opens it up for everyone because he draws attention.
When Paul came off a pick-and-roll with Ayton, Durant was on the wing and Booker stood in the corner.
Can’t leave Durant. So, Booker was open like a 24/7 7-Eleven.
Good from 3.
When Durant came out, the ball movement stopped and Phoenix fell victim to a 15-1 Chicago run to trail by four, 64-60, at the half.
Booker was playing one-on-one and forcing tough shots. He went 0-for-4 down the stretch
Paul took two 3s out of the flow.
Ayton accounted for that one point on a free throw and didn’t even get off a shot.
Phoenix had the previous starting lineup of Torrey Craig, Paul, Booker, Ayton and Okogie, but they weren’t connected on offense and allowed Chicago to walk them down.
This is all a work in progress, but Durant can’t play the entire game. The Suns still have to move the ball without him on the floor.
‘Let it fly’
Okogie had worked his way into a position to be that fifth starter with Ayton, Paul, Booker and Durant.
He averaged 18.5 points on 53.4% shooting (18-of-37 from 3) and 5.8 rebounds in Phoenix’s previous six games before Durant’s debut at Charlotte.
Then Okogie went 0-for-4 (0-of-2 from 3) in 33 minutes on a 4-point night.
After the game, Booker had words for Okogie.
“Teams are going to try to put the last defender on you,” Booker said. “You’re going to be open. Catch and go, catch and shoot it. Let it fly. That’s the flow of our offense. That makes everything go.”
Two nights later, Okogie was letting it go and giving Chicago the business right out the box.
Okogie scored 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting (3-of-4 on 3s) in the first six minutes of Wednesday’s game.
No hesitation on the 3s. Very aggressive.
Okogie had said he didn’t think his job was to “fit in” with Durant, Booker, Paul and Ayton.
“I think my job is to be myself,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “I don’t plan on changing nothing that I’ve been doing. Be aggressive when I have the ball, run it up in transition. Offensive rebound my tail off, try to get extra possessions for the team and defend my ass off. Always be solid on defense and be in the right positions and just play hard and bring energy.”
He was Phoenix’s tone setter Friday night.
Booker with reserves
Monty Williams is clearly experimenting with some of these lineups.
Darius Bazley made his Suns debut Friday after coming over in a trade from Oklahoma City for Dario Saric and a second round pick. At one point, he was out there with four starters — Durant, Ayton, Paul and Okogie.
Big lineup, but Bazley ended up committing three fouls in five minutes.
However, the one lineup that could be a staple to close the first quarter was Booker with Cameron Payne, Damion Lee, Torrey Craig and Jock Landale.
Booker usually plays most or the entire first quarter. Booker said after Wednesday’s game either he or Durant would be on the court “at all times.”
This was one of those times.
The lineup has two guys who can hit 3s in Craig and Lee, a pace setter in Payne to go with Landale as the big and Booker as the closer.
Booker had it going so it looked good, but what happens if he doesn’t? Who is going to score?
Sunday afternoon in Dallas
Ayton says his right knee is fine and will be good to go against the Mavericks.
Scared him, but says he’s good. Injury report will tell the fuller story Saturday.
Williams expects Durant will play Sunday even though it’s a quicker turnaround.
Terrence Ross missed his second straight game Friday with a sore right toe, but looked fine getting up shots pregame.
Again, injury report will reveal all. Now that the IR is out of the way, this is going to be a crazy game on so many levels.
Durant facing Irving. Doncic matching up against the new-look Suns.
The Mavs are 2-1 against Phoenix this season. This could be a possible first-round playoff matchup.
Phoenix is fourth in the West while Dallas is sixth but just a game behind defending NBA champion Golden State. We know what happened last postseason.
Game 7. Doncic dominated. Dallas steamrolled.
Phoenix’s special season abruptly ended at home.
Fast forward to now, Irving and Doncic just went for a historic 42 and 40 points in Thursday’s win over Philadelphia.
The Mavericks are taking Saturday off heading into Sunday’s game. They’ll be fresh and have a chance to lead Dallas to a win and take the season series.
The Suns know what’s at stake. And now they have Durant in what will be his biggest game to date with the Suns.
Game freaking on Sunday.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns 2-0 with Kevin Durant, top Bulls; Kyrie Irving, Mavericks next