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The Phoenix Suns didn’t start the second half of Game 3 strong.

Fell behind by as many as 21 points.

They didn’t end Thursday’s 109-95 loss well, either.

Devin Booker and Jae Crowder were ejected for separate incidents. Booker received a flagrant 2 foul for shoving Dennis Schroder in the back on a drive with 35.4 seconds left while Crowder was ejected after jawing with Schroder minutes after Booker’s foul.

So taking those factors into account with the Suns looking to avoid going down 3-1 to the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in this best-of-7 series, they’re facing a must-win situation in Sunday’s Game 4 at STAPLES Center. 

“It’s going to be a dramatic type of desperation to be honest,” Suns center Deandre Ayton said. “We know what we have to do.”

While Suns coach Monty Williams said he laughs at the “must-win” idea because teams want to win every game, the thought of needing to beat LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers three consecutive times to advance isn’t a laughable one.

“Now in a situation like we’re in, the stakes are higher and we understand the ‘what ifs’ that go with our situation,” Williams said.

The Suns won’t have to face that daunting 3-1 hole if they win Sunday.

“We talk about where we are and the importance of what we’ve done throughout the year to put us in this situation,” Williams later said. “We win tomorrow and all the work that we’ve put in pays off. That’s all you can ask for.” 

Game 4 set to begin at 12:30 p.m. on ABC.

“It’s going to probably be the biggest game of the series (unless) a Game 7 happens,” Davis said. “We’re going in wanting to protect home court, they’re wanting to take home court (back). We know they’re going to come out and play desperate in a sense.”

The Suns only lost three games in a row once this season back in January with the first two defeats coming in overtime against Denver and the last two minus Booker, who injured his left hamstring against the Nuggets in the first of that three-game skid.

A loss Sunday would match that rarity for them this season.

“We’ve got to have that mindset knowing that this team is going to come out with a lot of desperation,” Davis said. “Guys might play a lot of minutes on their side. Guys are going to make shots, but we’ve got to continue to do what we do on both ends of the floor and we should be fine, but it’s going to be a big game.”

When the Suns lost Jan. 27 at home to Oklahoma City, they were 8-8.

Phoenix responded by winning 43 of its last 56 regular-season games to earn the second seed and opened the playoffs with a 99-90 victory.

Two games later, Phoenix is down 2-1 looking to avoid a three-game skid that would put them in a very uncomfortable position.

Only 13 times has an NBA team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series with Denver being the latest to do so when pulling it off twice in last year’s playoffs.

The Suns don’t want to have to attempt that this year.

“We know how we played last game,” said Ayton as Suns lost 109-95 Thursday. “We’ve gotten enough time to get in the lab and straighten up and sharpen up some things.” 

The Lakers entered the postseason winners of six straight counting the 103-100 play-in tournament victory over Golden State to grab the seventh seed, but dropped Game 1 in Phoenix.

They haven’t lost since.

“The last two games, we wanted to have that mindset of being the aggressors,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Be first to 50-50 balls, be the harder playing team. The way we came out with overpowering offense, that’s going to be the key to winning the next game, winning Game 4, but that’s always supposed to be our identity is the harder playing, more physical team.”

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Dennis Schroder, LeBron James and Anthony Davis discuss Devin Booker’s flagrant 2 call late in Lakers Game 3 win over Suns to take 2-1 series lead. Arizona Republic

The Suns will look to do a better job on James and Davis as the All-Star duo have overcome missing significant time with injuries this season to being the difference makers so far in this series. 

Davis has scored 34 points in each of the last two games while James posted 21 points in Game 2 and 23 in Game 3. 

“Just locking in our personnel, knowing what our KYP (know your personnel) is a little bit more,” Ayton said. “Just being a little bit more aggressive with it to the extent where it’s going to have to be a tough, tough game. Physicality-type of game and just going to have to maintain it the whole game.” 

Davis will enter Game 4 questionable with a left knee sprain he suffered in the first half of Game 3 after his left leg buckled following a chase down block on Booker.

“Trying to get some rehab on it, some treatment,” Davis said. “Get some (swelling) out of there and be ready to go tomorrow. Get the muscles firing again. So I did a lot of that stuff today and yesterday, and even after the game as well. So I’ve been doing everything I can to be on the floor tomorrow.”

Davis expects to play Sunday.

“As a player wanting to be in this moment, wanting to be in the playoffs and help contribute to my team’s success, I want to be out there,” Davis said. “In my eyes, for me as a competitor, I think I’ll be out there tomorrow.”

Vogel said Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will also be listed as questionable with a mild left knee sprain he suffered in the third quarter of Game 3 defending Booker. 

“Hopefully, KCP is a go,” Vogel said.

As for the Suns, Williams said Chris Paul didn’t practice Saturday in hopes the time off will help him feel better going into Game 4 with the right shoulder injury that’s hampered him since injuring it in the first half of Game 1.

Paul is listed as questionable for Game 4. 

“We’ll just see how it goes when he wakes up tomorrow,” Williams said.

Paul has scored a total of 13 points in Phoenix’s last two playoff games as Williams has sat him the majority of the fourth quarter of Game 2 and Game 3.

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Chris Paul, Monty Williams and Cameron Payne discuss Suns Game 3 loss at Lakers, as the 16-year point guard plays through a right shoulder injury. Arizona Republic

The 16-year veteran didn’t play the last 7:01 Tuesday and final 9:34 Thursday.

“He’s played at such a high level,” Williams said. “He’s been in MVP conversations for most of the season and then to have this happen? I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I’d be somewhat deflated by that, but he’s a strong-willed guy.”  

Cameron Payne has played well down the stretch in Paul’s absence.

The backup point guard scored eight of his 19 points in the fourth of Game 2 and 11 of his 15 points in the fourth of Game 3. 

As impactful as Payne has been, Phoenix’s bench, as a whole, has averaged just 26.7 points in the playoffs after averaging 37 in the regular season.

“The bench has won us games this year and I’m looking for that right now,” Williams said. “Every good playoff team has a game or two where the bench comes in and sustains or increases the momentum.”

How to watch

Game 4: (7) Los Angeles Lakers at (2) Phoenix Suns

When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

Where: STAPLES Center

TV: ESPN. Radio: 98.7 FM

Series status: Lakers lead, 2-1. Suns look to avoid falling down 3-1 to defending NBA champions.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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