Suns briefly switch up bench rotation in Game 2 loss to Nuggets

May 1, 2023, 8:09 PM | Updated: May 2, 2023, 12:39 am

Aaron Gordon of the Nuggets and Cam Payne of the Suns...

Aaron Gordon #50 of the Denver Nuggets is fouled going to the basket by Cameron Payne #15 of the Phoenix Suns in the second quarter during Game Two of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals at Ball Arena on May 01, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Only six Phoenix Suns averaged more than 12 minutes per game through their first six playoff games.

In Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets, Suns head coach Monty Williams stretched his bench — relatively — to go nine players deep, as Devin Booker hit 40 minutes for the sixth game in a row and Kevin Durant recorded a playoff-low 36 in the loss Saturday.

The bench trust went way deeper in the first half of a 97-87 Game 2 loss at Ball Arena on Monday that put Phoenix down in the Western Conference semifinals, 2-0.

And it came before a more significant turning point in the third quarter, when the Suns learned they might need more bench contributions in Game 3 and beyond.

Point guard Chris Paul was ruled out with left groin tightness after he left in the third quarter.

Williams had already flipped Cam Payne in as the first guard off the bench instead of Landry Shamet, who didn’t play with Payne and Damion Lee getting time. Forward Ish Wainright was the second wing off the bench and in the main rotation for the first time this postseason, while Jock Landale was the third center used in the first half after Deandre Ayton and Bismack Biyombo.

It’s as if Williams heard Nuggets head coach Michael Malone say after Game 1 that Denver wanted to run on a Phoenix squad that’d leaned so heavily on its starters through the first round and Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

The reverse in trend was brief, however.

The Suns played Booker and Durant 44 minutes each by the end of the game, hardly resting them in the second half.

Offensively, it wasn’t pretty in many respects. Only two points were produced from six bench players who combined for 32 minutes in the first half.

The bench scored two more — total — in the second half for four total bench points in 71 minutes. The Suns bench went 2-for-16 from the field as the team shot 40% overall.

Lee led the second group with 26 minutes played, but he went 0-of-5 from the field. Payne played 17 minutes and shot 1-for-7.

The Suns at least collectively put forth a much stronger defensive performance. They led 42-40 at halftime and held Denver to 7-of-27 three-point shooting for the day. Guard Jamal Murray went 3-of-15 for 10 points and eight assists after his 34-point outburst in Game 1.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic poured in 39 points along with 16 boards and five assists, more than matching Booker’s 35 points and six assists.

The Suns survived a seven-minute stretch spanning the end of the first quarter through half of the second where they scored three whole points, and the Nuggets tied for their lowest-scoring first half of the year.

Phoenix somehow led at half despite shooting 36% overall and going 4-of-17 from three.

But the Suns couldn’t survive another cold spell, a 14-point fourth quarter where the team shot 7-of-25 and 0-of-9 from three.

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