DAN BICKLEY

All margin for error has vanished after Suns lose Game 5 to Nuggets

May 9, 2023, 10:43 PM | Updated: May 10, 2023, 12:09 am

Phoenix Suns Denver Nuggets...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns watches from the bench as his team trails the Denver Nuggets late in the fourth quarter during Game Five of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals at Ball Arena on May 09, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

DENVER — The next episode of the Devin and Kevin Show will be set in an extreme location. It will take place on the brink of elimination.

This was a Rocky Mountain low. A tough night. A bad loss. And after a 118-102 drubbing by the Nuggets in Game 5, all margin for error has vanished.

“All the game plan stuff goes out the window,” Devin Booker said. “It’s just a dogfight and we have to come out ready to go.”

Maybe it was Booker’s halfcourt shot that went in just after the halftime buzzer, a symbolic moment that capped 10 of the finest quarters of playoff basketball ever witnessed. Or maybe it was the spooked crowd at Ball Arena who had just witnessed a dangerous opponent wipe out a 15-point first-half deficit at high altitude.

But somewhere during intermission, the Suns lost their edge. They returned to the court in the same fog in which they started the game, yielding 39 points in the third quarter. Booker promptly lost his touch, possibly feeling the effects of a foot injury he suffered in the first half. All the work that went into a first-half comeback promptly went out the window.

For the second time in three games at Ball Arena, head coach Monty Williams waved the white flag and emptied his bench.

“We didn’t get off to a great start either,” Williams said. “I thought the start (of the game) set the tone for them. And the third quarter, it was nothing like we put on the floor this year from our standards.

“I just felt like we played with great pace the last two games, and they nullified that with physicality. We stood still tonight.”

The Suns seemed mentally fatigued, a top-heavy team playing its third game in five days. Nikola Jokic’s triple-double not only punished Deandre Ayton; it was a clinic in assisting and liberating one’s teammates. Durant is still struggling to summon a transcendent game, incurring the wrath of a highly emotional fan base. And when the game turned chippy, both Booker and Durant seemed on the verge of losing their cool.

In the end, maybe this lopsided loss will hasten the return of point guard Chris Paul.

“I think our poise wasn’t at the level it should’ve been tonight,” Williams said, noting the lifeless and dejected faces he saw during breaks in the action.

Before Tuesday’s game, the Suns seemed to benefit from an injury to their starting point guard, which had almost been a blessing in disguise. Paul is 38 now. He makes the Suns slower on offense and easier to defend. Before Game 5, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone expressed disbelief in the sudden change of his opponent, a team that was routinely thrashing the top-seeded Nuggets in transition.

Alas, their increased pace didn’t mean much in Game 5. Considering the stakes in Game 6, Paul’s poise and veteran leadership might come in handy, even in small doses, even if he’s not 100%.

As for Booker?

“Feeling fine,” he said.

Fingers crossed.

“It’s just about going out there and playing every possession like it’s your last,” Durant said. “(We’ve) seen this team for five games now. They’ve seen us. It’s all about who wants it more.”

And to think the night began in humorous fashion. After pregame warmups, Jokic approached Suns owner Mat Ishbia and tossed a basketball in his lap. The two men shared a handshake and a good laugh. It was a wonderful moment steeped in the spirit of sportsmanship.

Except the Suns are now one loss from extinction. And no one is laughing at the moment. Not with our history on the brink.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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