The Phoenix Suns find themselves in unfamiliar territory in the Devin Booker era, being down 0-2 in a Playoff series for the first time.
The teams before the current Suns have been a record 0-13 when down 0-2 in a series and it didn’t matter what seed they were at the time.
Can they break a historically bad record and make it a series by winning both home games this week? We will see but there are a few challenges that continue to plague this team hindering their chances dramatically.
The Suns head home after dropping game 2 last night to the Denver Nuggets in a defensive struggle for both teams resulting in a 97-87 Nugget win to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
There may be some hope here, after a game 1 blowout the Suns played a very good defensive game holding a hot Jamal Murray to only 10 points on 3 of 15 shooting.
In a game that had both teams under 100 points, has to mean one of the star players on both sides had to struggle from the field, in the Suns case it was Kevin Durant.
Durant is having a tough series dealing with the Nuggets pressure defense so far, he is turning the ball over trying to dribble through the defense and although he only had 2 turnovers last night, the pressure has forced him to shoot 10 of 27 from the field.
The shots that Kevin is getting are the shots he normally gets during a game, for some reason he looked rushed a little when taking them.
In the course of the game the Suns got more bad news, as point guard Chris Paul left the game in the 3rd quarter with a groin injury, he says he felt it tighten up and the staff pulled him, but if it’s a severely strained groin there is no way he can return in this series and be effective.
Team chemistry and continuity have still been an issue as this team is learning on the fly, and from the looks of things it may be near impossible for them to win a Championship while learning during the Playoffs.
Head Coach Monty Williams is still having issues with the bench rotation, and those guys on the bench are not giving him much to get excited about.
TJ Warren and Terrence Ross were DNPs again and the mystery is how can two guys with so much experience who were highly thought of to be major contributors, not be able to get minutes on the floor.
It is going to be very difficult for the Suns to win one game in this series let alone win a series without a healthy contribution from their reserves on a consistent basis.
Role players normally struggle to shoot on the road and typically shoot very well at home, but the Suns in these playoffs have not gotten bench shooting at home or away for 2 series.
The scoring for the Suns is Devin Booker and an opportunistic Kevin Durant every night for more than 40 plus minutes a game. That is not going to beat a team like the Nuggets, who have been playing together for quite a while and have been losing in the playoffs together for the last 3 to 4 years.
Something has to be done to get Ross and Warren in the rotation and get them confident at the same time, home playing can be the answer.
Damion Lee’s minutes have increased, but his on-the-road shooting has been brutal, he was 0-5 in game 2 from the field and a minus 5 while on the floor in a 25-minute night.
The Suns had control of this game for three quarters as they maintained a 5-8 point lead throughout, and things changed late in the 3rd after Chris Paul went out and the shots were not going down at all the rest of the night.
Phoenix shooting lulls continue to happen as they were on 73 points for over 6 minutes going into the 4th quarter, and the 3-point shooting was 0-9 in the second half.
No team is going to win on the road if they can’t put the ball in the hole when it matters.
There were several occasions to maintain their lead when Booker and Durant set up corner 3’s for Josh Okogie, Damion Lee, Cam Payne, and Torrey Craig, and not one guy hit that all-important big three that could have kept the team momentum.
Those guys were a combined 0-11 on the 3-ball and that simply will not win you many basketball games.
It was a wasted defensive performance as the Suns held the Nuggets under 100 and kept most of the role players under control.
Torrey Craig and Josh Okogie are spending a tremendous amount of energy on the defensive end and have no legs for knocking down three’s on the other end.
How is this going to change now what is a 5 game series and the Suns have to win 4 of the 5 to advance to the next round?
When new teams are put together late in the season, timing, and rhythm make up team chemistry and the Suns are still figuring out the winning equation.
Monty Williams is taking much scrutiny for not being more creative with his rotations, and although they have figured out the Nuggets scheme in the pick-and-roll, they have to find a combination of guys that have a bit of a hot hand shooting the basketball.
Often time with role players in playoff games, they tend to make the moment bigger than just a basketball game and they slide into thinking too much as opposed to trusting the work they put in on a daily.
Star players tend to rub off a relaxing vibe to calm down the others, but when they see Durant struggle to dribble and make shots he normally would make, they lose their confidence along the way.
So how is this going to get rectified in such a short time, there is an old saying “You are what you are” and at this point after trading away all of their bench depth the Suns could be looking at another second-round exit from the playoffs.
Let’s bank on the role players sleeping in their own beds and being around family and getting confidence from a crazy crowd at Footprint Center on Friday night will lift the Suns to the next level needed to tie this series at 2 games apiece.