Opening night at KeyArena—during perhaps the Sonics’ closing season—saw no shortage of pageantry: Cannons boomed, Squatch descended from the ceiling waving a sparkler, and young Kevin Durant jogged calmly to meet his teammates, unfazed by the eruption of cheers as his assassin’s heart maintained an even 60 beats per minute. There was nothing in the way of the dancing and skipping that many players perform on their introductory jaunt, just the cool confidence of a rookie phenom expected to turn around a franchise. Of course, the periodic “Save our Sonics” chants and the presence of Clayton Bennett in the owners’ suite reminded us that the wiry rookie may be less franchise savior than temporary stimulant. But as stimulants go, the kid’s alright.
On this night, the Supes would fall to the Phoenix Suns, 106-99, but stayed with their accomplished opponents for the better part of three and a half quarters, until reserve point guard Marcus Banks began raining threes on the Sonics’ parade. This happened one night after Denver’s Eduardo Najera and Linas Kleiza killed the Sonics in the fourth quarter with their two-man, three-point game. If the trend continues, bench players around the league are going to be circling games against the Sonics on their calendars.
Phoenix was rusty, this being the team’s first game of the year, but the Sonics’ youthful collection of long-armed athletes did plenty to disrupt the Suns’ vaunted offense early on. Steve Nash had an uncharacteristic seven turnovers, and Jeff Green, Johan Petro, Durant, and others got their hands on some implausible balls (insert Reggie Evans joke here).
While the Sonics eventually ran out of steam, the team was fun to watch. Durant (who finished with 27 points) had an outstanding offensive first half, Chris Wilcox hit some difficult turnaround jumpers, the rookies took charges, and the squad brought more intensity than Sonic fans have seen since the ’04-05 season—and more exuberance than since the early Kemp and Payton days. Herein, they’re a little reminiscent of their undergrad counterparts at Hec Ed: They play hard, fast, and sometimes a little sloppy, but usually send fans home feeling like they got their money’s worth. Hopefully, this won’t be Seattleites’ last chance to cash in.