PHOENIX – As soon as Devin Booker went down with a hamstring injury, the grumbling among Suns fans kicked in.
Although those who believed in the Cubs’ billy goat bad mojo and embraced the Curse of the Bambino might disagree, bad luck is the most likely culprit.
Just how the team responds without Booker in tonight’s Game 3 against the Pelicans is what interests fans most.
The Suns are coming off of a disappointing 125-114 loss in Game 2 to tie their first round series 1-1. In the game, Booker suffered a mild right hamstring strain, the team said, and added “there is no timetable for his return.”
Brian Windhorst and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Booker suffered a Grade 1 right hamstring strain that could sideline him for two to three weeks.
Booker has had a recent history of hamstring issues. Although players acknowledge it is a blow to the team, they said they are ready to play without him going forward if needed, starting with tonight’s game in New Orleans.
“It is what it is,” guard Chris Paul said. “It’s part of the game, you know what I mean. We got guys that are more than capable of stepping up. I mean, Book (Devin Booker) was killing it. He was having a big time game, but it is what it is.”
Coach Monty Williams remains confident in his team because it has endured without star players before.
“We get to go to their place and do what we do,” Williams said. “We’ve been really good on the road, historically good on the road. We’ve played without Chris and Book before. If we have to play without Book, next man up and we’ve done that all year long.”
The Suns are 8-6 this season without Booker.
After the guard’s injury, the Suns struggled to contain the Pelicans, in particular Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum. Ingram scored 37 points, along with McCollum’s 23 points, to lead the way for the Pelicans.
Mikal Bridges understands the challenge of having to guard Ingram, which can be a tough task.
“You just got to play the game, just know tendencies and be aggressive, but he’s tough,” Bridges said. “He can go right past you, he’s long. You just got to play the game, be aggressive. It ain’t easy, it ain’t easy. You just got to fight and play hard.”
Paul said the Suns will have to be better defensively, including himself.
“We have to be better, especially me defensively,” Paul said. “They pushed it on us. They got into the bonus early, especially that third quarter, and I think sometimes that takes away a little bit of our aggressiveness.”
Williams agrees, and believes the team’s transition defense in Game 2 was the “worst we’ve ever looked in transition” during his tenure as Suns coach, and that was worrisome occurring in a playoff game.
“Our guys have to understand that this team is going to play hard every position and we saw it in the third quarter,” Williams said. “We missed a shot and they were taking off and that was a bit deflating, but that was the change in my eyes and then they got hot from three. The transition defense balance wasn’t there at any level tonight for us.”
The Pelicans shot 55% from the field for the game and 57% from 3-point range They scored 16 fastbreak points compared to nine for the Suns.
The Suns will also look to pay better attention to detail in Game 3, and believe a lack of focus contributed to the struggles.
“All of these games are so important, but no matter how you slice it, it is one-to-one,” Williams said.
“I’ll whine and feel bad about it tonight, but we’re one-to-one and it’s a long series.”