Monty Williams on Chris Paul’s resiliency, Devin Booker’s scorching start, Deandre Ayton’s great defense in Game 6 win to eliminate Lakers

Monty Williams on Chris Paul’s resiliency, Devin Booker’s scorching start, Deandre Ayton’s great defense in Game 6 win to eliminate Lakers

Booker scores 47, Suns eliminate champion Lakers, 113-100

Devin Booker has a tattoo on his forearm of the message that Kobe Bryant wrote for him on a pair of shoes after they faced each other at Staples Center six years ago: ”Be legendary.”

Back in the house his idol built with a chance to secure his first team playoff success, Booker put on a performance worthy of the Black Mamba’s legend and propelled the Phoenix Suns onward in the postseason.

Booker scored 22 of his 47 points in a phenomenal first quarter, and the Suns won their first playoff series since 2010, eliminating the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers with a 113-100 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night.

After hitting eight 3-pointers, grabbing 11 rebounds and going a stunning 15 for 22 from the field, Booker cast his eyes up at Bryant’s two retired numbers as he left the floor amid the cheers from a small, vocal road rooting section. Kobe is never far from Booker’s mind on the court, but his breakthrough playoff game felt like a testimonial to Booker.

”Honestly, I was thinking about Kobe and the conversations we had,” Booker said. ”About what we went through, and the postseason, and being legendary and taking the steps to get there. Seeing that 8 and 24 up there, with the lighting Staples has, it’s like it was shining down on you. I know he was here tonight, and I know he was proud.”

Afterward in the arena tunnel, Booker got a signed jersey from another hero and mentor: LeBron James, who could only marvel at his up-and-coming friend’s brilliance in Game 6.

”I love everything about D-Book,” James said. ”We’ve had numerous conversations in the past. When you want to be legendary in this game, you’ve got to continue to improve not only your game, but also as a man. All the conversations we’ve had, I can tell he’s soaked them up and is using them to his advantage.”

Jae Crowder scored 18 points for the second-seeded Suns, who won three consecutive games to send James to a first-round series loss for the first time in his 18-year NBA career.

Phoenix will meet Denver in the second round. Game 1 is Monday in Phoenix.

Chris Paul had eight points and 12 assists for the Suns, who jumped to a huge early advantage in the opening minutes of Game 6 while Anthony Davis struggled and eventually left due to his groin injury.

Although the Suns lost much of their early 29-point lead, they patiently held off the Lakers and James, who had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Booker and Paul stayed strong in the fourth quarter, and Phoenix ended a decade of hoops frustration in the Valley of the Sun with the clinching victory of Booker’s first career playoff series.

”It certainly is cool to beat the defending champs, for sure,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. ”But you can only hold onto that for so long, and now you have to move towards another worthy opponent.”

Davis returned to the Lakers’ starting lineup after missing the second half of Game 4 and all of Game 5, but the eight-time All-Star played less than 5 1/2 minutes before being sidelined again by his groin injury.

Booker and the Suns surged to a 29-point lead in the first half, but the Lakers trimmed it to 10 midway through the fourth quarter. Paul, Mikal Bridges and Crowder all hit big shots down the stretch to make sure the lead never went to single digits.

Dennis Schroder scored 20 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 19 for the Lakers, who won’t get to properly celebrate a title in front of their wild home fans this summer after last October’s sterile victory in the Florida bubble. The Lakers were 21-6 before they lost Davis and then James to long-term injuries starting on Valentine’s Day, and the champs never regained their best form.

”It never really felt good. but the competitive nature in me wanted to go out there and help the team as best as I could,” Davis said. ”My body didn’t agree. … Injuries played a big part in putting us in the position we’re in. It wasn’t the same this year. We just couldn’t have our full product on the floor.”

Even with a healthy Davis, the Lakers would have hard-pressed to keep up on Booker’s latest evening of brilliance.

Booker hit all six of his 3-point attempts and went 8 for 9 overall while the Suns took a 36-14 lead after one quarter. The six-year veteran showed none of the shakiness from earlier in the series against the Lakers, shredding the NBA’s best defensive team with his silky-smooth jumper and heady penetration.

While Paul played through a persistent shoulder problem, injuries were insurmountable for Los Angeles, which had a 2-1 series lead on Phoenix when Davis injured his groin midway through Game 4 and subsequently missed Game 5.

Caldwell-Pope played well after missing most of the past two games with a bruised knee, but the Lakers also lost backup guard Alex Caruso to a left ankle injury midway through Game 6.

With the resurgence of the injury problems that forced the Lakers down to the seventh seed in the West, they couldn’t recover against the Suns and Booker, who rose to lead Phoenix to its decisive wins.

Booker, who scored 30 points in Game 5, got help in the first quarter of Game 6 from three of Crowder’s six 3-pointers. Phoenix took a 21-point lead to halftime, but the Lakers trimmed it to only 13 heading to the fourth quarter with big efforts from James, Schroder and Wesley Matthews, who combined for 27 points.

TIP-INS

Suns: Crowder and Torrey Craig got technical fouls during a sequence that included a flagrant foul on Caldwell-Pope. Crowder was then ejected with 30.6 seconds left for a second T, and he sprinted to the locker room. Booker also got a final-minute technical.

Lakers: James indicated he’s unlikely to play in the Olympics. … They didn’t face an elimination game during their title run last year. … Schroder gave a much-improved effort after going scoreless in Game 5. The German guard is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he repeated his desire to stay with the Lakers.

SENSING A THEME HERE

The Lakers are the third conference finalist from the 2020 postseason to be eliminated in the first round this year, joining Miami and Boston. All four finalists endured significant injury problems this season after a radically truncated offseason, but the Nuggets held off Portland in six games earlier Thursday to advance despite losing Jamal Murray to a knee injury in April.

FIRST FLOP

James had been 14-0 in first-round series during his career, which includes four championships. Only Lakers greats Derek Fisher and Robert Horry ever had more first-round perfection in NBA history, with both going 16-0.

”It doesn’t really matter to me in that fashion,” James said. ”What matters to me is getting this team back healthy.”

ROAD WARRIORS

The NBA’s best road team in the regular season won two straight in LA, taking Game 4 after Davis went down at halftime with a groin injury.

Phoenix has won five consecutive closeout games in best-of-seven playoff series – although the Suns hadn’t closed out anybody since San Antonio in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals before Kobe Bryant and the Lakers beat them in the conference finals.

 

The Los Angeles Lakers labored through a 113-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday at Staples Center and lost their first-round series in six games. While the Lakers failed to defend their NBA championship as a seventh seed, the second-seeded Suns will face the third-seeded Denver Nuggets in the second round.

 

1. Anthony Davis deserves credit for trying to play, but he clearly was not ready.

With a frustrated look on his face, Davis sat down on the floor adjacent to the Lakers’ bench. He had received clearance to play in Game 6 after missing the second half of Game 4 and all of Game 5 because of his strained left groin. But after struggling to defend, attack the rim or even move at all, Davis finally had enough.

With only 6:35 left in the first quarter, Davis sat down on the floor and struggled to process everything. He soon stood up and went to the locker room. Davis returned to the bench about four minutes later in warmups, and the Lakers technically considered Davis questionable to play. But there was no question that Davis would sit out the rest of the game. The Lakers officially made that decision after trailing 62-41 at halftime.

a man with a football ball: Devin Booker poured in 47 points for the Suns.
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 Devin Booker poured in 47 points for the Suns.

 

2. LeBron James failed to rise to the occasion.

No hot takes here. LeBron’s legacy is perfectly fine, even if he won’t win his fifth NBA title and lost in the first round for the first time out of 15 appearances. The loss doesn’t fall solely on him, either. But let’s be real. The Lakers showed in their Game 5 loss and plenty of times during the season an unfortunate reality about their supporting cast. They could not be trusted on a consistent basis.

So the only way the Lakers had any smidgen of a chance in this game? If James just tried to take over the game, team chemistry be damned. Instead, James tried to thread the needle again. Even if James decided to hog the ball, the Lakers still may have lost. The Suns’ Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul are that good. But that strategy likely would have worked better than his approach with trying to thread the needle between scoring and setting up his teammates.

James has usually mastered how to play the right way. And the criticism he occasionally received for not taking the final shot was usually misinformed. But after seeing that team-first approach not work in Game 5, why would James think it would work in Game 6?

3. Lakers fought valiantly in the second half

That being said, James and everyone else on the Lakers deserve credit for chipping away at a 29-point deficit in the second half. They easily could have just packed it in. Instead, the Lakers whittled the Suns’ lead to 13 entering the fourth quarter.

That happened because James went into attack mode, his supporting cast made shots and the entire team made defensive stops. But every time it looked like the Lakers were within striking distance, any combination of Booker, Paul or Cameron Payne answered right back.

If nothing else, at least this shows that the Lakers’ efforts this season had more to do with the compressed season, overlapping injuries and new personnel than any attitude or locker room issues.

4. Where do the Lakers go from here?

The Lakers’ finish might not be surprising considering the team’s overlapping injuries in a compressed season that started only 72 days after winning the NBA championship. It is understandable why the Lakers made tweaks to their roster instead of keeping some core players from last year’s title run in hopes of having a younger and fresher roster. But expect the Lakers to make changes this offseason. 

No, James and Davis won’t and should not go anywhere. But can’t see why the Lakers would have any interest in keeping Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell. The Lakers should keep Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker since they’re mostly reliable role players. But expect Kyle Kuzma to be attached in trade talks considering his team-friendly extension and his failure to have season-long consistency.

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