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How the Suns could survive with Chris Paul injured

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How the Suns could survive with Chris Paul injured

Chris Paul will be out for the Phoenix Suns as they try to climb out of a 2-0 hole against the Denver Nuggets.

Whether he returns from a groin injury in these Western Conference semifinals will depend on whether the Suns can lean even more heavily on Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, then find enough contributions from a bench unit with little cohesion and coming off an empty offensive performance.

The loss of Paul can be seen as a death blow for this 2022-23 Suns season. We’ll get into the implications of next season when the time is right.

At the moment, Phoenix is ​​very much alive. Just ask those 1992-93 Suns 30 years ago Paul Westphal’s speech.

The Suns are fighting history, whether they consider five-game or seven-game streaks.

There is a 7% rate of teams coming back to win a series after being down 2-0 in each case.

However, it has happened three times in the last three years: In this year’s first round with the Warriors over the Kings, in 2022 when the Suns blew a 2-0 lead over the Mavericks to fall in Game 7, and in 2021 when Phoenix lost the Finals NBA after going 2-0 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Enough with that painful history lecture. Here’s one person’s optimistic view of how the Suns can rebound to make this a series against the Nuggets.

It’s time for the Point Book to begin

Mine Empire of the Sun co-host Kellan Olson said it well Monday night: Devin Booker, as he did on 19-win teams, is still required to hang up the cape with Paul and Kevin Durant on his team.

It’s wild how time and circumstances haven’t changed the demand for him to save this team.

I say, so be it.

Booker may have to save the Suns, but moving him to the starting spot will allow for a few things. First, it will reverse his transition into playmaker mode, where he thrived in a first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers: A 38-point, nine-assist Game 2 followed by a 47-point, 10-assist performance. Game 5 especially.

By the way, Booker still scored while in playmaker mode. It’s not putting more on his plate, but saving the possessions where he can get the Suns in bunches for the team to find 0.5 cohesion.

The purpose is twofold.

It empowers Durant to slide into the spot as the No. 1 option. 1 of the note. Get it off the screens. Use it as a selection controller with Booker.

No, the Suns offense doesn’t look the same with Booker and Durant sharing the court. But simplifying the game and letting them manage more plays will not only help them find a rhythm, it will give coach Monty Williams the opportunity to tell them they need to fill it up by touching teammates.

Yes, there is a dilution effect to worry about with Booker averaging 43.0 minutes in seven playoff games.

“I think it’s a lot,” Williams said after Game 2. “He was probably more tired than he’ll admit. With Chris off the floor, it puts a lot of pressure on him, so I have to understand that.”

This concern has a counterpoint. Booker doesn’t need to be the point man for the entire game, nor is he tasked with creating every single shot when he is the initiator. Get the team on the attack, get rid of it. Payne will surely get more minutes in the starting lineup or otherwise.

And when there are matchups to attack, focus on moving him to the other end of the court and letting Durant catch up with a rotation defense in front of him, something Phoenix has been a little slow to find a rhythm with.

So who joins the starting lineup?

Booker is now your point guard. Big.

So who joins him in the starting lineup? If I had to put money on him, I’d split Williams going with Cam Payne or Torrey Craig, depending on where Payne’s fitness is.

Payne may have used last week and the long layoff to get his wind and legs back after missing more than three weeks with a back injury. It would keep the rotations the same as they were before Payne returned, though Damion Lee could be the starting guard off the bench in place of Landry Shamet. Able to log heavy minutes, Payne gives the Suns more pace and perimeter pressure than they had with Paul, all while taking the playmaking load off of Booker and Durant.

Craig is trusted and gives the Suns a super interchangeable lineup. Him and Josh Okogie on the floor at the same time are very controversial shots – and there is not enough space on the floor.

So hear me out on this little idea: Terrence Ross takes the starting nap.

And no, this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to everyone from Durant to Lee missing so many shots last game.

Initially, the Suns can slow down Payne as the backup point guard and Craig as the first guy off the bench to maintain some depth (you’re losing a starting point guard and adding a whole new player to the rotation). Ross causes a bit of late buzz for the Nuggets, who have to worry about his shooting from the corners.

Either Ross has options open or Denver sticks with him, wiping out a helper defender from Booker or Durant — or Booker-Durant — pick action.

Defensively, you can hide Ross somewhat in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sitting in the corner like the Suns did with Paul to start games. You just have to worry about Denver’s hunting keys to put Ross on Jamal Murray.

The Suns don’t need to give Ross tons of minutes. Go with Payne or Craig in crunch time if it doesn’t work, or with Lee as a more complete defensive player. I just love Ross’ ability to throw it with volume and create his shot a little more.

Use this as an opportunity

To be clear, Paul’s loss is bad. He is the Suns’ third-best player and an on-court director who, in the third quarter just before his groin injury, was beginning to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And then he left immediately.

But as Booker said after Monday’s game, Phoenix can use this as both a challenge and an opportunity. And as a former NBA assistant Pointed out Steve Jones in his review threadThe Nuggets really decided to let Paul cook for the sake of stopping Booker and Durant.

The Suns will either go deep on their two remaining stars or find a way to power — there’s that word again — Durant and the bench to find a rhythm. That’s the only way they’ll go beyond this series and maybe the next, anyway.

These following clips are the goods the Suns want: Durant takes an open three in the first clip. Even if the second-side pass and single swing doesn’t involve Paul and Durant, it’s a good offense run by Booker.

In the second, a non-CP3 lineup causes problems for Denver, still so concerned about Booker and Durant.

“I mean, the playoffs are a lot,” Booker said after Game 2. “A lot comes with it. You just have to embrace it, embrace the challenge, embrace the opportunity we have right now, even down 0-2,” Booker said. “There’s a lot on all our plates.”

With extended rest and a willingness to concede more, the Suns may still have a fighting chance against a team that looks very worthy of the No. 1 seed. 1 in the Western Conference.

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