Chris Paul walked into the locker room with a groin injury midway through the third quarter as the Phoenix Suns held a four-point lead.
The Suns had a slim three-point advantage going into the fourth quarter, but without a common ground, their offense ran cold as they held a final-period 27-14 lead in a 97-87 Game 2 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
“He couldn’t get away from that or anything,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of Paul, who was officially ruled out in the fourth quarter. “We’re not quite sure what it is now but it looks like something in the groin area.”
Paul’s standing in Game 3 is in question, but Phoenix has more problems than Paul’s tender thigh.
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The Suns lost by double figures to the Nuggets when Jamal Murray shot 3-for-15 from the floor, including 0-for-9 from three-point range. Murray had a team-best 34 points in Denver’s victory in Game 1, but had a difficult shooting night in Game 2. However, the Nuggets did not need to take Murray out to score to extend their series lead.
Denver showed Monday that they can beat the Suns in different ways: stout defense, timely play by two players, and a big dose of quarterback Nikola Jokic, to whom the Suns had no answer.
“My team needed to be aggressive. They were guarding me individually. It was that kind of game,” Jokic told reporters after the match.
The two-time MVP scored 39 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to help the Nuggets take a 2-0 series lead. He is the fifth player in NBA history to record at least 20 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists in three consecutive post-season games.
“I marvel at his greatness, I marvel at his consistency, his superiority, his ability to find so many different ways to beat you — whether it’s scoring, rebounding or playmaking,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of Jokic. “He is not afraid of the moment.”
Jokic isn’t afraid of the moment, and Suns big men Deandre Ayton, Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale clearly can’t contain him.
The Suns now face an 0-2 deficit as they prepare to play at home at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix. Paul’s health looms large, but the Suns have to figure out how they can beat a Nuggets team that has shown through two games that they can win in many different ways, most notably with a two-time MVP.
“Playoffs (a lot). A lot comes with this, so you just have to embrace it. Embrace the challenge, take the opportunity we have right now – losing 0-2,” Devin Booker said after the game. “Go home (and) protect our home court and go from there.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on Twitter @tweet.