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Bickley: Suns come home with a big mission after Game 2 loss in Denver

Bickley: Suns come home with a big mission after Game 2 loss in Denver


UPDATED: MAY 2, 2023 AT 00:39

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DENVER – Anger. heartbreak. An injury to Chris Paul.

It wouldn’t be a postseason in Phoenix without that boring trifecta.

Unfortunately, the Suns come home with a big mission. Coming off a disheartening 97-87 loss to the Nuggets on Monday, they need to win four of the next five games against the No. 1 seed in the West. They left the Ball Arena with short, silly chants of “Nugs in Four!” And before his postgame press conference ended, head coach Monty Williams appealed to every ticket holder in the Valley to provide raucous home-field advantage for his injured team.

“We have to go home and take care of business,” Williams said. “That’s where we are now.”

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A groin injury to Paul complicates matters, cementing his legacy as the unluckiest star player in the postseason. When he left the game, the Suns led by eight points. While Devin Booker is clearly a capable option, his workload is already maxed out. And with Booker and Kevin Durant each logging over 44 minutes high in Game 2, the top-heavy Suns finally succumbed to fourth-quarter fatigue, scoring just 14 points in the last 12 minutes.

“I think it’s a lot,” Williams said. “(Booker) was probably more tired than he would admit, but with Chris off the court, it puts a lot of pressure on him. So I have to figure that out.”

Booker seemed determined after the game, telling his teammates in the locker room that they should enjoy the challenge ahead.

“We’re going to hold him down while he’s out, if he’s out, and we’ll go from there,” Booker said.

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The Suns did a lot of things extremely well in Game 2. They bounced back. They played tenacious defense in the first half. They went after Jamal Murray, who followed up his Game 1 dominance with one of the worst nights of his pro career.

But the Suns couldn’t make shots. They tried to solve their math problem by taking 31 shots, but only made six of them. They stopped running in the fourth quarter. They were also hampered by a poor night from Kevin Durant, who missed 17 of 27 shots and had fans on their knees mourning the loss of Mikal Bridges once again.

“We kept them at 97 points,” Booker said. “That’s usually a win for us if we get our offense going.”

Panic if you want, but this series is not over. Remember, the Suns led the Mavericks 2-0 in last year’s Western Conference semifinals before losing their lead and momentum. And in the NBA, they say nothing happens in a playoff series until the home team loses.

Here’s the good news: Role players generally do much better at home during the playoffs, and the Suns desperately need more from their bench. Jock Landale played with great hustle and energy on Monday. But Damion Lee, Cam Payne and Torrey Craig combined to go 1-for-14 from the field.

The Suns are also in desperate need of an extended rest, which they will receive before Game 3 on Friday. But someone has to step up if Paul isn’t ready, and his condition doesn’t look promising.

“I mean, the playoffs are a lot,” Booker said. “A lot comes with this. You just have to hug it. Accept the challenge. Take advantage of the opportunity we have right now, even down 0-2. Come home, protect the pitch and go from there.”

There is very little margin for error. There’s also a lot of pressure on the Suns to prevail at home and claw their way back into the series, and we’ve all witnessed what stifling pressure has done to this franchise in the recent past. The Suns haven’t had a must-win game at the Footprint Center since the terrible series finale against Dallas.

Let’s hope this one looks very different.

Contact Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 am to 10 am on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.



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