Bickley: Suns come home with a tough mission after losing Game 2 in Denver

Phoenix Suns' Kevin Durant...

DENVER – Anger. Heart pain. An injury to Chris Paul.

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

Unfortunately, the Suns come home with a tough mission. After a disheartening 97-87 loss to the Nuggets on Monday, they need to win four of their next five games against the No. 1 West. They left the ball arena to hear short, silly chants of “Nugs in Four!” And before his post-game press conference was over, head coach Monty Williams appealed to all ticket holders at the Valley to give his injured team a roaring home field advantage.

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

A groin injury to Paul complicates matters and cements his legacy as a star player with the absolute worst postseason luck. 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 running at high altitude for over 44 minutes in Game 2, the top-heavy Suns finally succumbed to exhaustion in the fourth quarter, scoring just 14 points in the final 12 minutes.

“I think it’s a lot,” Williams said. “[Booker]was probably more tired than he’d admit, but with Chris not on the ground, it puts a lot of pressure on him. So I have to find out.”

Booker seemed determined after the game, telling his teammates in the dressing room that they had to enjoy the challenge ahead.

“We’re going to hold it while he’s out — if he’s out — and just go from there,” Booker said.

The Suns did a lot of things very well in Game 2. You have recovered. They played tenaciously in defense in the first half. They were chasing Jamal Murray, who followed his Game 1 dominance with one of the worst nights of his pro career.

But the Suns couldn’t shoot. They tried to solve their math problem by lining up 31 shots but only hit six of them. They stopped running in the fourth quarter. They were also hampered by a poor night by Kevin Durant, who missed 17 of 27 shots and had the knee-jerking fan base once again lamenting the loss of Mikal Bridges.

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

Panic if you want, but this series isn’t over yet. Recall that 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 that in a playoff series, nothing happens until the home team loses.

Here’s the good news: Roleplayers generally do much better at home in the playoffs, and the Suns desperately need more from their bench. Jock Landale played with great zeal and energy on Monday. But Damion Lee, Cam Payne and Torrey Craig went off the field together 1-on-14.

The Suns are also in dire need of an extended break, which they will receive ahead of Game 3 on Friday. But someone has to step in when Paul isn’t ready and his condition doesn’t sound promising.

“I mean, the playoffs are a lot,” Booker said. “That adds up to a lot. You just have to accept it. Do you accept the challenge. Seize the opportunity we have now, even with a 0-2 deficit. Go back home, protect the home farm and get out of there.”

There is very little room for error. There’s also a lot of pressure on the Suns to assert themselves at home and work their way back into the series, and we’ve all witnessed the suffocating pressure this franchise has put on in recent years. The Suns haven’t had a must-win game at the Footprint Center since that horrifying series finale against Dallas.

Let’s hope this one looks very different.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

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