The Phoenix Suns, led by Devin Booker’s forty-seven points and Chris Paul’s twelve assists, defeated the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center 113-100 Thursday night to win Game Six of their first-round playoff series, taking the series four games to two. The Suns will now play the Denver Nuggets in the second round.
The game ended for all intents and purposes in the first quarter, as Phoenix was raining threes and playing ferocious defense as the Suns jumped out to a 36-14 lead. Making matters worse for the Lakers, a clearly hobbled Anthony Davis played only 5:25 before being forced out of the game with a groin injury incurred in Game Four of the series. Although the Suns were themselves hobbled, with Paul nursing a bum shoulder, Paul and Booker provided an unconquerable problem as Phoenix at one point led by twenty-nine points.
The second half was far more competitive than the first, the Lakers outscoring the Suns 35-27 in the third period and eventually trimming the lead to ten points in the fourth. Los Angeles never came any closer, as Paul and Booker methodically regained control of the situation and sent LeBron James on an unexpectedly early summer vacation.
While Phoenix now prepares for what should be a highly entertaining series against Denver, the Lakers must now try and figure out if this year was an injury-riddled fluke or the harbinger of a quick decline from last year’s championship squad. Davis can’t stay on the court; he missed thirty games during the regular season. At this late stage of his career, James is no longer the force of nature he once was and is also more susceptible to injury; he missed 26 of the Lakers’ last 30 games with an ankle injury. And to put it politely, the rest of the Lakers roster doesn’t scare anyone.
However, full credit where credit is due. Three years ago the Suns were the worst team in the NBA. They have turned it around by drafting right, starting with selecting Booker in 2015 and then patiently letting him develop. In 2019 Phoenix brought in Monty Williams as coach, Williams immediately enjoying the change of pace provided by a dry heat after having spent five seasons in New Orleans as the head coach. (On a far more somber note, Williams knows loss far greater than any experienced on a basketball court; his wife and mother of their five children were killed in a 2016 auto accident.) Williams then talked all parties concerned into making the Valley of the Sun Paul’s next (and presumably final) stop in his lengthy career. Paul and Booker immediately became the best duo you seldom hear about, leading Phoenix to its first playoffs appearance in eleven years. With Paul’s calm leadership and Booker shooting out the lights, plus the aforementioned tight defense, the Suns are definitely not to be taken lightly.
Although the NBA itself is doubtless drinking heavily as it bemoans the absence of James and the Lakers from the remainder of the playoffs, actual basketball fans are in for a treat the remainder of this post-season. There are exciting, enjoyable teams a-plenty left vying for the title, and this promises to be a highly competitive second round among all parties involved.
(Editor’s Note: I, for one, cannot wait to see the end of the cop-hating LeBron James era of the Lakers.)