The Phoenix Suns defeated the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Thursday night, 113-110, ending the series in six games (4-2).
This is the first time in his NBA career that LeBron James (29 points on 11-26 shooting, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists) has departed the playoffs in the first round, ending a historic streak for the NBA’s all-time leader in playoff appearances.
Booker Rises to the Occasion
Devin Booker dealt the Lakers a knockout blow in the first period, exploding for 22 points and tying a playoff record with six threes made in one quarter. Booker ultimately wound up with 47 points and 11 rebounds and finished 8-10 from beyond the arc.
Anthony Davis attempted an early comeback from a groin injury but reaggravated the area and was forced out after just five minutes of action. Davis had not been himself all year, having his worst scoring season (21.8 points per game) since 2014 and his least productive rebounding season ever (7.9 per game). The Brow posted nearly identical numbers in the first four games of the series, giving the Lakers 21.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per night.
The Lakers were awful from the three-point line again, shooting 10-35 as a team, while Phoenix’s Jae Crowder picked the perfect moment to recapture his shooting touch and nail 6-9 threes after going 8-37 in the first five games. Crowder’s six triples tied his playoff career-high and were instrumental in steering the Suns over the line down the stretch.
Coaching Problem for the Lakers?
Frank Vogel opted to bench midseason acquisition Andre Drummond after starting him in 26 of his 27 games as a Laker, inserting Marc Gasol into the starting five. Gasol was blanked on the scoreboard, and although he had seven assists and three rebounds, he was nothing more than pedestrian in the closeout game.
Vogel also played Wesley Matthews for 28 minutes while Ben McLemore only saw the court in the final minute of garbage time; McLemore’s lack of involvement throughout the series has opened Vogel up to criticism, given his ability to get hotter from three than any of his teammates, and the Lakers continued struggles at long-range shooting. Matthews has been a capable three-point shooter during his career but only shot 33.3% this regular season and 28% in the playoffs.
The biggest underperformer in the series for the Lakers was Kyle Kuzma, who only managed to convert 29.2% of his attempts from open play while earning more minutes than any other Lakers bench player. Kuzma appeared lost through major stretches of the ballgames, and Vogel’s sustained confidence in him is nothing short of baffling.
What’s Next for Both Sides?
Up next for the Suns is the Denver Nuggets, who closed out the Portland Trail Blazers in six games right before Phoenix and LA tipped off. Nikola Jokic has continued his MVP-level performances in the playoffs thus far (33 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 53/43/92% shooting splits), and Michael Porter Jr. played at a supremely high level against Portland, giving Jokic his necessary running mate.
LA will enjoy a summer of rest and recovery for their two stars, each dealing with their respective bodily ailments, while roster turnover is basically a guarantee. Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Talent Horton-Tucker, Andre Drummond, and Ben McLemore will all be free agents this summer, while last year’s Sixth Man of the Year in Montrezl Harrell has his choice of a player option. Harrell only played 10 minutes on average in the playoffs and could very well depart from LA if he is disgruntled with his usage in key moments.
Game One of the #2 Phoenix Suns and #3 Denver Nuggets series is scheduled for Monday, June 7th at 10:00 p.m. ET.