By Holly MacKenzie
So, you’ve all heard about my 5+ hour excursion to Seattle to catch the Suns and Sonics in what was the Sonics home opener and the Suns season openerlast Thursday night, but you didn’t get to hear about the game. Sorry about that whole sleep thing. I have been lying to myself pretending I only like the way Starbucks tastes and that I am not reliant on the caffeine effect. After passing out for almost 9(!) hours, I surrender.
At Key Arena I had to wait until security had received a call from the media table inside. I got to hang out and watch all of the Sonics dancers walk inside carrying enough make up and hair supplies to last a lifetime. I briefly contemplated tying up my shirt to show off my abs, to try and pass as a dancer and see if that would get me in because it was getting cold. Okay, not really, but I did get impatient. I saw the Suns bus drive up and then finally, after what seemed like the entire Seattle dance team passed by me, I was given the go ahead to make my way inside.
Once inside it was immediately apparent that this was definitely not your average preseason game. There was a pack of tv/video people around all waiting for Durant to make his big arrival. I figured it would be a great opportunity to watch the typical order of things at an NBA game and I was happy just to take it all in. After checking out the media room I picked up a copy of each of the Suns and Sonics 07-08 media guide and made my way to courtside where I could watch some of the guys warming up.
Spotted: Leandro Barbosa sitting across from me. He is talking with Dan D’Antoni. Having read the book “07 seconds or less” I know that this they do this before every game and usually Dan will pass on a note to Barbosa with key things to remember for the game. It was really cool to watch that happen in front of me.
As I was walking through the tunnel I ended up facing a bunch of photographers and tv cameramen. After stepping out of their path I look behind me and there was the superstar of the day, rookie Kevin Durant walking to the locker room. It always baffles me when I see celebrities getting their picture taken as they are on their way to get coffee, etc. It was really weird seeing Durant’s every step recorded as he made his way to the locker room.
Delonte West walks past, making his way to the locker room. I love how he looks in the tailored suit with his neck tats peeking out.
DJ Strawberry and Alando Tucker are shooting around on Phoenix’s end. I try making my way around to the tunnel that is by the Sonics end, but it is blocked off for some reason.
Once media availability happens I make my way into the Sonics locker room but I stayed only for a minute as it was pretty crowded in there. Durant was being interviewed and the rest of the team looked very uninterested in being approached.
Kurt Thomas is on the court now, talking with Chris Wilcox. I spot Cheryl Miller going through her notes. Delonte West is draining jumpers from all over the floor. Diaw and Barbosa have joined in on the shooting around and then I see Amare coming out from the locker room. He smiles at me and gives a quick, “Hey, whats up” before running out to be interviewed by a bunch of TV people at the scorers table. Cheryl Miller goes over and stops to talk to Diaw and it’s a love fest. They are laughing their heads off and have the longest hug I have ever seen between a member of the media and an athlete, but Cheryl is just cool like that.
Finally, the Suns locker room is open. But the players don’t seem to be. When I walk in the first thing I notice is Steve Nash laying out on a trainers table with the trainer doing something to his ribs that looked painful. Nash lifts his head up long enough to glance at the media coming in. Grant Hill is stretching it out in the middle of the room and the TNT broadcast of the Detroit/Miami game is on. The rest of the guys are crowded around watching the Heat/Pistons game while Leandro is sitting quietly in the corner being interviewed. As fun as it was in there, they all seemed pretty immersed in their own deals and I didn’t feel like trying to interrupt the game watching. It was definitely a different atmosphere than the preseason game last week.
By now pretty much everyone is out shooting around for both teams. I still don’t see Durant, but I hear a PR person say he is still in the therapy room.
While I am watching, Suns head of security Kevin Tucker comes over and stands by me. We had met briefly in the game last week in Vancouver. Raja and Marion are signing autographs for their fans and one woman in particular is screaming “Oh you’ve got to sign this you are my favorite!” When Tucker sees her he tells her “Y’all are double-dipping. That’s not right”. Marion stops signing and turns to Tucker asking “Who?”. When Tucker points the women out she is confused and smiles at Tucker. He just shakes his head and she says “You don’t understand, Shawn is my screensaver!!” We laugh about that as he says the same women was at the hotel earlier getting autographs and there is nothing worse than people taking up time getting a bunch of autographs when kids who are waiting miss out because of it. “They all your favorite until the next guy comes along” he says, nodding towards the same woman now calling over Diaw to sign her hat. We talk a bit about Nash, the fans at the hotel and the Suns being good guys before he is called away.
Assistant Coach Phil Weber is challenging Diaw to shot some threes and knocks down a few himself before walking through the tunnel. Nash sneaks past the fans requesting autographs by waiting until Coach D’Antoni is sucked into the crowd to slip by.
Nash’s shoes are the brightest purple I have ever seen. they look radio-active.
As game time approaches, I make my way to my seat and get comfortable. Tip off is late because the Miami/Detroit game is still underway so I watch that on the tvs that are at our press table. It is so weird seeing Smush Parker in a Heat uniform. Then, he throws away the ball at the end of the game and things look normal again.
The Sonics have a yellow T-shirt giveaway for opening night that reminds me of the Warriors “We Believe” shirts from the playoffs last season. There are a lot of “Save our Sonics” signs on display around the Arena. It saddens me to imagine all of these fans losing their team.
Warm ups have started and the Phoenix trainer is working over time on these guys. Marcus Banks needs some muscles stretched out and he is being twisted like a human pretzel.
Ridnour has the face-mask on and is fiddling with it every 2 seconds. That thing has got to be so damn annoying.
The pregame introductions are up and there is quite the light show of green and yellow fireworks which make me leap out of my seat every time, even when I know they are coming. They announce the crowd as a sell out of 17,072 but I spy some empty seats. When it comes time for Durant to make his home-debut, the crowd roars its approval. I get goose bumps imagining how that moment must feel for him.
Kurt Thomas addresses the crowd, thanking them for their support for the upcoming season. Again, I am reminded how unfair it seems to take away the franchise from these fans. Thomas is inactive for the night with a hamstring injury. And now, its game time.
SEA: Wilkins, Wilcox, Collison, Durant, Watson
PHX: Hill, Marion, Stoudemire, Bell, Nash
SEA: Kurt Thomas (hamstring)
Robert Swift (knee)
PHX: Sean Marks (back)
-Amare gets the hook shot to go to start things off.
-Each team shares misses and Marion fouls Wilkins, he hits both fts.
-Nash with an early turnover.
-Durant scores first points as a Sonic with 10:55 left in the 1st quarter and the crowd goes wild.
-Amare comes right back with a dunk.
-Wilcox with the offensive board and putback. Great positioning to get that rebound.
-Marion makes a great cut, and gets an easy dunk. Beautiful pass by Nash.
-Watson called for palming, Raja steps out of bounds, Watson with a layup. Seattle is pushing the ball just as much as the Suns.
-9:06 in the quarter, Durant goes up for his first free throws. Misses the first one and he looks so upset like someone just told him his dog died. This kid wants to do well. I silently pray “Let him make it” because I don’t even want to see his face if he bricks them both. Wow, it is going to be a long season for him in Seattle.
-Raja fakes a three, quick pass to Nash and he hits the three.
-Perfect play, Durant to a driving Collison for the easy layup. Durant looks like a kid in a candy store. I have a perma-grin just watching him. This whole living your dream thing, it’s pretty great.
-Amare goes straight down the middle and gets up for a big dunk to tie things at 11. Diaw then replaces Amare.
-Nash has another turnover and doesn’t seem to have any rhythm to offense in the early goings.
-Watson feeds Durant for the big dunk and the crowd is loving their rookie.
-Wilkins drains a long jumper and Diaw answers with one of his own.
-Seattle is the team that is looking good on the break tonight. While Phoenix is trying to push the tempo, they are getting turnovers. Seattle is taking advantage of it and pushing the ball, where Phoenix’s transition D is non-existent.
-Petro and Delonte come in for Wilcox and Watson. Wilcox looks really tired and it makes sense once I read that he was sick during the second half of the Denver game last night.
-Raja is UP on Durant, great D, Durant just steps back and drains a long jumper right over Raja.
-Marion throws up a crappy shot. Diaw gets the steal and throws it to Marion for the dunk. 19-17 Seattle.
-Bell picks up his second foul, Barbosa comes in for him and Amare replaces Hill, moving Diaw to the forward spot.
-Timeout. Sonics dancers come out and do their first of MANY routines in their first of as many wardrobe changes. Marcus Banks is watching the girls “pop it” as D’Antoni is trying to get the Suns running game on.
-Nash drains an 18 footer.
-Now he has another turnover on a bad pass in traffic. I don’t remember the last time I have seen him so careless with the ball.
-Diaw with another jumper, assisted by Nash.
-Sonics miss a bunch of shots until Delonte gets the lay up to go. Seattle up 25-21.
-Petro gets the steal off of a Nash turnover and gets it to Watson who throws up the alley-oop for Wilcox who completes it. The crowd is loving it. The home opener is getting me excited.
-Banks checks in for Nash who already has 4 turnovers. Hill comes in for Marion.
-Green misses back to back shots while Amare hits an 18 foot jump shot, assist to Hill.
-Wilcox shoots a bunch of free throws. Hits 3 of 4. Diaw hits a jump shot to bring Phoenix within 1, 26-25.
-Barbosa is just so effortlessly quick. There are players who are fast, and players who are quick and Barbosa is both. He looks like it is so natural for him to be doing things at breakneck speed.
-Watson with a missed jumper, Amare miss, Petro miss. Watson with the turnover.
-GHill for 2, puts the Suns up 1, 27-26.
-Delonte goes in for the lay up with less than a second on the clock, Amare blocks him to end the quarter.
SEA: Collison, Ridnour, Green, Durant, Wilcox
PHX: Stoudemire, Banks, Diaw, Barbosa, Hill
– Nash starts quarter on the bench, looks stiff.
-My notes get a little more sporadic as I start talking with a sportswriter from the Oregonian who seems really impressed when he notices that my placecard says I am working with SLAM. “You are Holly?” he asks. When I tell him that indeed I am, he comments on my youth and then asks how I got involved with SLAM. He seems impressed, and also very bored with the game. I don’t think I will ever get bored of this. I mean sure, it might become procedure, but never boring. I thank the heavens above that I have that type of passion about something and then thank them again for this experience.
-Wilcox gets the offensive board and the putback.
-Banks hits a three.
-Amare gets the ball at the elbow, rises and hits the jumper.
-Barbosa misses a layup and is very upset with himself.
-Suns cannot defend middle. Oh Amare don’t make me call you out.
-Ridour with a beautiful pass to Green for the layup.
-Palming called again, this time on Banks. I never see this call and its already happened twice tonight.
-Bell and Marion in for PHX. Petro in for SEA.
-Durant looks really, really skinny. His arms are so long and lanky it is ridiculous. He looks like a boy trapped in this body that is half-man half-boy which I guess it is so it makes perfect sense. I can totally picture him playing HALO with a bunch of kids in the neighborhood. He looks so young to have the high hopes of Seattle fans placed upon his rangy frame.
-Durant for three. Barbosa running around yelling at Suns, trying to direct transition defense, but there is none.
-Nash back in game for Banks.
-Collison schools Marion under the basket and gets the reverse lay up. 37-32 Seattle.
-Amare offensive foul, 3rd personal. Brian Skinner is in to replace him. Side note: when is he going to get rid of that awful bleached patch of ick on his chin?
-Green misses a huge dunk. Crowd not impressed.
-Collison goes to work on Marion, gets the dunk.
-Suns looks positively sluggish out there.
-“Save our Sonics” chant gets louder and louder.
-Bell hits a three. Marion with the layup. Durant with the offensive foul as Nash steps in.
-They show Kid Rock, sitting courtside. Sonics dancers pose with him and give him a jersey. He might be a big hoops fan which is cool, but I immediately feel dirty upon seeing him.
-Suns finally have some ball movement and spring in their step.
-Wilkins in for Green for Seattle. Barbosa hits a jumper to tie things up at 39 all with 5:42 left in the half.
-Petro hits 2 at the line.
-Bell is getting frustrated. Tough night for him so far. Expending a lot of energy on trying to guard Durant who uses his length to rise up over Bell.
-Diaw and Hill come in for Barbosa and Marion. Watson in for West.
-Another Nash Turnover.
-Durant looks like he is ready to bust out. Hits a jumper, an 18 footer, then another long jumper. Bell is missing his shots and doesn’t look happy.
-Suns get a defensive 3 call, wilkins misses the ft.
-Nash for 2, Wilcox right back for 2 of his own. 49-45 Seattle.
-Skinner with the mid-range J.
-Durant loses the ball, Skinner grabs it and Hill hits a three.
-Wilcox with the jumper, Nash hits a three from Barbosa.
-Barbosa with the steal and goes all the way for the lay in.
-Watson to Wilcox alley-oop ties the game at 55. Watson doing a great job getting the ball inside.
Hill takes another three, misses and Wilkins gets the rebound and shoots from 41 feet, hits the 3 and gives the Sonics a 58-55 halftime lead.
SEA: Wilcox has 15 points on 7-8 FG.
Durant has 18 points on 7-14 FG.
PHX: Amare with 10
Nash with 10 but also 5 first half turnovers
Seattle had 17 fast break points in the first as compared to 10 for the Suns. They are beating Phoenix at their own game. Overall, impressive first half for Seattle. Not so much for the Suns. Too man rushed 3-pt attempts.
SEA: Wilcox, Durant, Collison, Wilkins, Watson
PHX: Bell, Hill, Marion, Stoudemire, Nash
-My notes really take a hit here as I am listening to the reporters in front of me talk about the Blazers and Denver.
-Hill with another 3-point miss. Seriously, I know its an offense which encourages open shots, but these threes don’t look good.
-Phoenix with a 24 second violation. What?! Since when does it take them 15 seconds to get a shot, let alone 24. D’Antoni is pacing. Ugly possession. Bell wasn’t aware of time and looks beyond frustrated with himself, Durant and this game.
-Next play down, Durant going against Raja. Raja stays strong, Durant misses the layup, Raja tries to grab the ball and knocks it out of bounds. It’s just that kind of night for him.
-Collison with the steal, Sonics good ball movement, Nash struggling to keep on on D. Does this weird hop thing with his leg to try to recover on defense. It doesn’t work.
-Nash with another tunover.
-Sonics delay of game but I miss what happened. 58-57 Seattle.
-Watson for three.
-Collison blocks Amare and Amare looks stunned. The Suns cannot seem to get their composure.
-Nash trying to will the team into their up-tempo offense, pushing the ball like mad.
-Phoenix seems to end up giving the ball to Hill in the corner for that long three-pointer a lot. Have gotten away from their usual ball movement and look dare I say, stagnant.
-Amare called for traveling.
-Durant with a jumper. Crowd starts chant again.
-I write down “BARBOSA”. They need something to give them a lift. D’Antoni gets on ref for no call on the other end.
-Wilkins with a huge put back dunk.
-Diaw and Barbosa (yay!) in for Amare and Raja. Petro, Green and West in for Wilcox, Wilkins and Watson.
-Durant with a big dunk. I love watching this kid.
-Hill called for offensive foul. Collison misses a lay up, Marion with a block.
-Hill down the lane for the lay up. 68-65 Sonics.
-Petro fouls Barbosa, he hits both fts.
-It’s a Wally sighting. Szczerbiak in for Petro.
-Wilcox with a huge dunk. Suns just looked silly on that one. Seattle is just continuing to surprise me. I know some of it is due to Phoenix playing badly, but a lot of it is due to Seattle playing well.
-Hill hits an off-balance J.
-Delonte with a terrible pass that Diaw just picks off, Nash throws the perfect alley oop to Marion for the dunk. 71-70 Suns with 3:25 in the 3rd.
-Time out. Banks and Amare in for Nash and Marion. Collison in for Durant. These Sonics dancers are entertaining, thats for sure. Seattle also has the questionably named “Boom Squad”, a group of guy dancers/breakers who have this little guy who might be the cutest thing I have ever seen. The arena goes nuts for him.
-Hill misses yet another three.
-Green looks nice as he glides in for the layup from Delonte.
-Amare with a miss and then a huge offense board. Fouled by Collison and hits both fts.
-Green with the foul on Hill and for some unknown reason Hill drags Green down with him. Crowd goes crazy, booing Hill who misses both free throws. This game’s intensity just got cranked up about 20 notches.
-Phoenix called for a defensive three. Wally hits the ft. Sonics up 77-72/
-Wally with the jumper and then again with the three. 82-73 Sonics.
-Banks drills a three. Wally misses a jumper. Banks hits again from deep. 82-79 Sonics.
-Banks opens the quarter with another HUGE three to tie things up at 82 all.
-Barbosa gets the steal, Amare hits the jumper its 84-82 Suns.
-Again, Barbosa gets the steal and Amare hits a turnaround J. 86-82 Suns.
-Collison with the layup on a feed from Watson.
-Diaw with a miss but Amare big offensive board and put back.
-Timeout: Petro in for Collison. Marion in for Amare.
-Banks finally misses a three, Watson hits a crazy bank shot. 89-86 Suns.
-Barbosa with the big three.
-Wilcox misses a huge dunk Crowd groans, the have seen this before. Youth starting to show even though Seattle is battling, winning hustle plays, effort is there, but they are starting to look scared.
-Wilcox goes down, Diaw crashes into front row trying to save ball. Wilcox looks hurt. Grabbing knee. Knees make me feel sick. Give me an ankle twisting to the floor any day, just keep me away from the damn knees. Collison comes in for him immediately, he goes back to locker room. Nash is in for Banks.
-Durant and Wilkins each miss on three-point attempts.
-Barbosa called for traveling. D’Antoni and Suns bench go bananas. BANANAS!
-Durant misses another 10 footer, Diaw gets the board, gives it up to Raja who is called for traveling. Raja looks like he is going to explode. Manages to give the ball up calmly. I thought that one was going to end in a technical and the ball being thrown into the crowd.
-Amare in for Diaw. Amare with the steal and feed to Marion for the uncontested lay up.
-Wilkins gets the big offensive board and knocks down a 15 footer.
-The night gets worse for Raja as Durant blocks his jump shot. Crowd loves it. 93-88 Suns.
-Time Out. Wally in for Collison. Hill in for Barbosa. Nash misses a jumper badly.
-Durant hits for 2. Suns 93-90.
-Raja finally breaks through and hits a huge three to extend it to 96-90 Suns. 3:59 remaining in the game.
-Durant rises waay up over Hill and calmly hits his biggest shot of the night. A huge three to close the gap to 96-93 Suns.
-Nash feed to Amare who is fouled by Watson. Amare at the line for 2. Hits them both. 98-93 Suns.
-Watson misses a shot, Hill rebounds, Nash misses.
-Suns call for time. Green in for Wally.
-Durant makes his worst play of the night, a turnover with 2:32 on the clock. Marion gets the steal, gives it up to Hill who bricks yet another three.
-Raja redeems his entire game when he steps in and takes the charge, drawing the offenseive foul on Durant. Seattle then gets defensive three called on them. Nash hits the free throw. 99-93 Suns.
-Nash hits the fadeaway for 2. 101-93 Suns.
-Wilkins misses the J.
-Nash with the rebound and the bold three-point miss. 1:41 remaining in the game.
-Green misses a crazy hook shot. Hill rebounds and feeds Amare who throws it down for good measure. 103-93 Suns.
-Amare with the foul on Green. Green steps up and knocks down both free throws. 103-95.
-Nash sucks the hope out of them by nailing a game clinching three with 43 seconds on the clock.
-Wilcox hits a hook shot but its too late.
-Watson steals the ball on the next possession, Wilkins outlets it to Wilcox who gets another big dunk, but the Suns escape with the victory. Game over.
Durant had 27 points in his home debut. He looked comfortable and at times much more experienced to this level of play than a rookie. Wilcox had a great line of 23 and 11. Earl Watson had 7 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists and I was surprised at how good he was at finding his big men in the first half especially. Mickael Gelabale was a DNP-coaches decision while Luke Ridnour logged only 7:32 minutes. Maybe it was the face-mask, maybe it was his play, but he had 3 assists in those 7 minutes. Overall, the Sonics really surprised me with the game they put up against the Suns. Sure, the Suns came out flat, but Seattle was also without Kurt Thomas. For a young team they looked good, their only fault was thinking a game could be won in 3 quarters.
Amare led the way with 23 and 11 for Phoenix. He played 31 minutes and looked to be in pretty good game shape for his 3rd game back. Marion had 14 and 11. Hill finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He definitely helps the Suns out but 1-7 from behind the arc? I don’t know about that one. Raja had one of the roughest nights I have seen in awhile, but he showed up when they needed him most, hitting a huge three, taking the charge. He never gave up and he was rewarded for that. Nash had 18 and 12 assists but he also had an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers.
The Suns looked flat and hectic in the first 3 quarters of this game. While the Sonics surprised with their play the Suns surprised as well, but not in a good way. They got lucky and were able to turn things on in the final 12 minutes and pull out the win. It’s still only early and I expect it to take some time before Phoenix really can expect to fire on all cylinders. Yeah, they played preseason, but the regular season is a whole different ball game. Seattle needs to keep on improving and learn to gain some poise in late game situation.
I didn’t get the chance to speak with the guys after the game, unfortunately. Since the game was late getting over, I had only 20 minutes to hail a cab and catch my bus for my return to Vancouver. My favorite quote from the night was Suns security man Kevin Tucker. When he was informed that there was salmon for dinner he says, “Oh sure, you got that good s–t because its opening night. Just wait until next week”. All in all the game was great. While I would have loved to see the Suns offense in full-throttle, it was really fun to watch a close game in the end. And, I got to see Kevin Durant’s home debut. It was a long trip, these notes were A LOT longer than I expected, but, I am ready to go again.
The coolest part of this whole thing is just the chance to see this game being played by some of the most talented athletes in the world, up close and personal. To see all of that hard work, talent and confidence mixed together and then displayed on the court transferred to the game that we all love so much, it gives me this rush that simply cannot be duplicated. Of course as a fan I get those sheer waves of excitement as some of my favorite players are all around me, especially so when they give me that nod or a “what’s up”, but the coolest is just becoming a part of their world, if only for those moments when I have a pass on my wrist that enables me to see the ballers beyond the court. In those moments we are all just people who love basketball, whether we play it, watch it, report it or coach it. It’s like those adidas commercials, it is a brotherhood, except in my circumstance, it is a family.
For someone like me who has loved this game for as long as I remember, if I cannot play it, I need to pass it along. My venue for doing so? Through my words, my experiences and my truth. For every experience that this path brings me, I only hope to do it justice by passing along the love of the game. I am told every day how lucky I am to be in this position. I hope everyone knows that I recognize more than anyone the opportunity which has been placed in my hands here. I am getting to touch my dreams with every game and every recap and most importantly my basketball family grows with each comment that is left on these posts. Thank you for all taking this ride with me and remember, this is only the beginning.