We anticipated trouble for the Los Angeles Lakers going into Tuesday’s Game 5 on the heels of Anthony Davis suffering a strained left groin in Game 4.
Now, we definitively know just how much juice the Lakers lose without Davis in a postseason environment after the Phoenix Suns seized a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series with their 115-85 triumph.
“I feel like [with] every game in this series, the next game’s the biggest game,” said Suns guard Devin Booker, who scored a game-high 30 points.
Davis’ injury and potential availability moving forward conspires with NBA history to place Los Angeles in a precarious position going into Game 6 on Thursday (10:30 ET, TNT) at Staples Center. Throughout postseason annals, when teams are tied 2-2 in a playoff series, the Game 5 winner advances to the next round 82.5% of the time (174-37).
If that’s the fate awaiting the Lakers, perhaps they’ll put up a stronger fight when the teams again clash.
The Suns suffered their own injury scare with 6:47 remaining in the third quarter, when Chris Paul appeared to aggravate the shoulder injury he originally sustained in the series opener between the teams.
Paul left the game with 6:46 left in the third quarter, and Phoenix didn’t immediately update his status.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ injury woes only deepened in the second half, when it was announced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would sit the remainder of Game 5 due to aggravating the bruised left knee that had already kept him out of Game 4. It’s highly doubtful Caldwell-Pope would’ve been able to help late in this one.
Phoenix jumped out on fire to capture a 66-36 lead at intermission as Booker, Paul and Deandre Ayton reminded the world that LeBron James and Davis weren’t the only stars on the floor in a packed house at Phoenix Suns Arena.
Booker let loose for 22 first-half points, including 18 in the first frame, on 9-of-13 shooting and 2 of 3 from deep. The Suns dished 16 opening-half assists with only one turnover en route to serving up the largest halftime deficit ever in the playoffs for a team featuring James. Overall, Phoenix had 29 assists to just four turnovers in Game 5.
In the second quarter alone, the Suns outscored Los Angeles 32-10, with the Lakers’ 10 points falling just two points shy of a franchise postseason low. Over the quarter, the Lakers knocked down just two field goals, and finished 0 of 5 from range. In the process, Los Angeles suffered a nine-minute scoring drought without hitting field goal, as the Suns embarked on a 24-2 run during that span.
Don’t think Phoenix ever turned down the heat, either.
When Booker nailed a 15-foot jumper for his 26th point of the night at the 8:19 mark of the third quarter, the Suns’ lead increased to 34 points.
James tried to do his part to keep Los Angeles in contention by taking 10 shots in a meat grinder of a first half for the Lakers. But the Los Angeles supporting cast flashed too much timidity to realistically help it gain ground, as James’ fellow starters Markieff Morris, Andre Drummond, Dennis Schroder and Caldwell-Pope combined to put up a total of 12 shots in the first half.
So, while Booker outscored Los Angeles’ entire starting lineup in the first half 22-16, backup guard Cameron Payne came off the bench to rack up 14 points over that span on 6 of 7 from the field and 2 of 2 from 3-point range against a Lakers’ group of six reserves that combined for 20 points on 6 of 17 from the floor.
The Lakers are the defending champions, but make no mistake, offseason turnover took away some of the squad’s veteran foundation. Experienced contributors such as Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Danny Green no longer populate the roster, leaving James few options without Davis against a stacked club like the Suns.
Davis averaged 21.8 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game over the first four games of this series while playing 34.8 minutes per game. He scored a total of 19 points in Los Angeles’ first two losses of the series, and 68 points in the two victories. Throughout the regular season, the Lakers finished 19-17 in the games Davis missed.
So, Los Angeles needs to find a way to regain such consistency in the face of potentially missing Davis again in Game 6.
With or without Davis in the lineup, improvement in the shooting department would help Los Angeles tremendously. The Lakers shot just 43% from the field and 29.1% from 3-point range over the first four games of the series, only to finish Game 5 at 34.5% on field goals and 34.3% from deep.
“It’s gonna be tough,” Booker said of Game 6 in Los Angeles. “These are the defending champs. Obviously, they want to protect home court, also. We need it. We want it really bad. So, we’ve got to come in with a next-game mindset and build off of what we did tonight.”
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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