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Suns need a lot more from Kevin Durant if they want to extend this series

While most everyone else on the Suns is getting the blame, its superstar Kevin Durant who really needs to step up

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets - Game Two Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

After losing 97-87 to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, the Phoenix Suns find themselves down 0-2 to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 2023 Playoffs. The best-of-seven series is only halfway over, but you get the feeling they might as well be out of the playoffs already.

The Suns have, historically, only a 7% chance of coming back to win this series, which would require them to win four of the next five games against a team that’s already beaten them twice in the past three days.

Yes, Suns fans, you know it CAN happen. You know a team down 0-2 can come back to win the series because you’ve seen it play out the last two years in the other direction.

But those teams that came back on the Suns didn’t lose their point guard before the comeback began. With the Suns up 59-51 with four minutes left in the third quarter, Chris Paul suffered a pulled groin and left the court for treatment. The Suns were outscored 46-28 in the final 16 minutes of the game. If you recall, Devin Booker — who is 12 years younger than CP and yes that matters — suffered a groin strain after a game in mid-December and barely played for the next two months. Don’t hold your breath on CP’s return in this series.

So now the Suns are pretty much dead in the water. Without Chris Paul, who is going to step up in a Suns comeback bid?

Much is being made of the Suns abysmal bench, who by all rights have been truly abysmal. In these playoffs, everyone not named Booker, Durant, Ayton or Paul is shooting less than 33% from the field, less than 20% on threes and just basically crapping the bed. Skeptics saw this coming. Optimists did not.

After Paul pulled the groin on Monday night, the Nuggets outscored the Suns 46-28 over the final 17 minutes. That aforementioned supporting cast scored 2 points in that span despite playing more than half the available minutes (17 minutes x 5 players).

But it’s not the bench that ultimately lost Monday’s game. They only took 8 of the Suns 33 shots over that last 17 minutes.

It’s not Deandre Ayton who lost that game. He just isn’t a guy who grabs the ball and makes his own shot. He played good, active defense all night and made 7 of the 10 shots he was given by the ball handlers.

And it’s not Devin Booker who lost the game. He made 5 of 11 shots in that span, including the Suns’ only made three. Sure, that wasn’t a Stephen Curry finish, but no one in their right mind would say that Booker came up short.

The one who really came up short was Kevin Durant. The Suns gave up a whole bunch of assets, including their functional depth and half their future draft picks, to acquire a guy who was supposed to carry this team in playoff crunch time. He’s one of the game’s all time leading scorers, has two NBA Finals MVPs and a career scoring average of 29 points per game in the playoffs over 15 playoff runs.

Yet here he is, making only 4 of 12 shots in that final 17-minute stretch, including 0-4 on threes, no free throws, one assist and one rebound. That’s it?

Don’t talk to me about him being tired. He’d only played two games in the last week, and took the last five minutes off in Saturday’s blowout.

Overall, Durant’s numbers in these playoffs over 7 games are good: 27.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists on 50/36/96 shooting splits on the second-most minutes in these playoffs. He definitely helped finish off the Clippers in five games.

But he hasn’t been great, and the Suns gave up a lot of assets for GREAT. He can’t be missing just about every shot down the stretch in a pivotal Game 2 that makes it near impossible to survive the second round now.

That Game 2 just stands out like a big warning beacon: missing 17 of 27 shots, including missing 10 of 12 threes, getting to the line for only 2 free throws.

He needs to step up. His scoring and shotmaking needs to make the poor bench play irrelevant. He needs to be, if not Superman, at least Batman.

The Suns will very likely have to play the rest of this series without Chris Paul. That means the bench needs to play at least a little bit better, for sure. Everyone’s got to play a little bit better.

But it also means that Kevin Durant needs to play a LOT better if the Suns are going to stage a massive comeback in this series.

The Suns next game is Friday, at home at Footprint Center, where they will try to win their first second-round playoff game since Game 5 against Dallas a year ago.

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