Phoenix Suns in near must-win mode down 0-2 to Minnesota Timberwolves

Phoenix Suns guard Bradley Beal reacts toward referee Josh Tiven after a foul call during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday in Minneapolis. (AP photo)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns and their so-called Big Three return home to the desert in a big pickle.

Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and the Suns are in a 2-0 hole heading into today’s Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who looked mostly dominant in a pair of double-digit wins in the first two games.

There are two more Game 3s today, the Bucks at the Pacers and the Clippers at Dallas. Both of those series are tied at 1-1.

Durant has been on a team that recovered from a 2-0 deficit to win a series — the 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder — but said there’s no advice he or anyone else can give to pull the Suns out of their current predicament.

Instead, they just have to play better.

“You can talk all you want, but if you don’t execute what you just talked about, it does you no good,” Durant said. “Talking and rah-rah speeches are cool to a certain point, but you’ve got to go out there and execute.

“We haven’t done that. We’ve done it in spurts, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not good enough doing it in spurts.”

The Suns hoped to be one of the NBA’s best teams this year after acquiring Beal in an offseason trade, adding the three-time All-Star to a roster that already included Durant and Booker. But Beal’s myriad of injuries early in the season kept him out of the lineup for long stretches, and the group never quite found consistent cohesion.

A 10-4 record to close the regular season was encouraging, but the first two games of the playoffs were not. Now there are only a few more chances to get it right, or the season ends in disappointment.



Series tied 1-1. Game 3,

5:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN

• NEED TO KNOW: Two days after snapping a franchise-record 10-game playoff losing streak, the Indiana Pacers can take their first series lead in seven seasons. The last time it happened, Indiana took a 2-1 advantage over Cleveland in 2018 before losing the series in seven games. Milwaukee, meanwhile, has lost five of seven meetings with Indiana this season and hopes to avoid a second straight first-round exit.

• KEEP AN EYE ON: Damian Lillard’s first half and second half splits and Pascal Siakam’s historic start. Lillard, Milwaukee’s biggest offseason addition, has helped the Bucks battle through the absence of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo by scoring 61 of his 69 points in the first halves of the first two games. Siakam, acquired in a midseason trade by the Pacers in part because of his postseason experience, is the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 to open the postseason with consecutive 35-point, 10-rebound games.

• PRESSURE IS ON: Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton. While his 21 assists and five turnovers through two games are consistent with his regular-season averages (10.9 assists, 2.3 turnovers), he’s taken only 17 shots in the series. Yes, Haliburton is a pass-first guy, but in his home playoff debut the Pacers need him to help stretch the floor as he did by making 3 of 7 from 3-point range in Game 2.



Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 8 p.m. EDT, ESPN

• NEED TO KNOW: The Clippers ceded home-court advantage for now with a 96-93 loss in Game 2. The bright side for LA was Kawhi Leonard appearing to come through Game 2 in good shape physically. The star forward missed the final eight games of the regular season and the series opener with right knee inflammation. The Mavericks played great defense to even the series, and offensive gurus Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving were a big part of that effort. Doncic is scoring (32.5 points per game after leading the NBA at 33.9 in the regular season) but struggling a bit from long range (9 of 26 on 3-pointers). James Harden’s 3 game could be a key factor for the Clippers. He was 6 of 11 in Game 1 but just 2 of 10 in Game 2 loss.

• KEEP AN EYE ON: Ivica Zubac. The Clippers center was a force from the start of the series opener, helping set the tone for an offense that built a 29-point lead in a 109-97 victory. Two fouls inside the first three minutes of Game 2 kept the Clippers from trying that again coming off Zubac’s playoff career high of 20 points. Look for LA to try to establish the 7-footer early.

• INJURY WATCH: Mavericks G Tim Hardaway Jr. is out with an ankle injury. C Daniel Gafford is questionable after struggling with a back issue in Game 2.

• PRESSURE IS ON: The Mavericks lost all three home games in a first-round series against the Clippers three years ago. The road team won the first six games before the Clippers took Game 7 at home to advance. Dallas couldn’t capitalize on winning twice in LA to start that 2021 series. Now, the only way for the Mavs to get some bang for their buck from the Game 2 win is to take care of their home court.



Minnesota leads 2-0. Game 3, 10:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN

• NEED TO KNOW: The Timberwolves dominated a big chunk of the first two games, defending home court with a pair of double-digit wins. Anthony Edwards scored 33 points in Game 1 while Jaden McDaniels had a playoff-best 25 points in Game 2. Phoenix’s star trio of Durant, Booker and Beal shot just 18 of 45 from the field in Game 2 and if the group doesn’t find its rhythm soon, it’ll be a short trip to the postseason.

• KEEP AN EYE ON: Minnesota’s Naz Reid was named the NBA’s sixth man of the year on Thursday after a stellar regular season, averaging 13.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. But the 6-foot-9 forward was relatively quiet in the first two games, averaging 8.5 points on 33% shooting. If he gets going, it’ll be even tougher for the Suns to pull off a series comeback.

• INJURY WATCH: Suns guard Grayson Allen aggravated the sprained right ankle he suffered in the series opener, forcing him to hobble off in the third quarter of Game 2. He led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage this season and is vital in helping Phoenix spread the floor so Durant, Booker and Beal have more room to operate. Allen said he felt “better than expected” on Thursday, but is still questionable for Friday’s game.

PRESSURE IS ON: Phoenix’s ballhandlers. The Suns have had the same problems for much of the season, particularly with turnovers. The roster doesn’t have a true point guard, leaving Beal and Booker to do much of the distributing. It didn’t work in Game 2, with the pair combining for 10 of the team’s 19 turnovers. A friendly home crowd should bolster the Suns’ chances in Game 3, but that hasn’t always helped. Phoenix has been eliminated from the playoffs in embarrassing blowouts in each of the past two seasons.


AP Sports Writers Michael Marot in Indianapolis and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.


AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA


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