2021 Playoffs: West First Round | Suns vs. Lakers
Devin Booker, Suns locked on title drive after eliminating Lakers
Phoenix's All-Star guard leads the Suns' first-quarter blitz that helped eliminate the defending champs.
Days before experiencing his 2020 NBA All-Star snub, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker let a message be known.
“I feel I’ve played at an All-Star level for the last three years, so I’m not going to let anyone else decide my legacy,” Booker told NBA.com that January. He stared up at the AT&T Center ceiling and pointed. “I care more about getting some of these.”
His finger directed the eye toward the five San Antonio Spurs championship banners hanging from the rafters. Seventeen months later, Booker finally has a chance to nab some of his own. Thursday, he took the first steps with a brilliant 33-point first half on the way to scoring 47 points to lead Phoenix past the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers, 113-100, in Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Booker’s 47 points marked the most in a playoff game by a LeBron James opponent.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this moment,” Booker said in his postgame walkoff interview. “It wasn’t the time to shy away from it.”
Phoenix also sent James into first-round elimination for the first time in his career.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, coincidentally became the first reigning title holders since the 2014-15 Spurs to be knocked off in the first round.
To be clear, the Lakers came into the contest undermanned. A hobbled Anthony Davis attempted to give it a go with a groin injury originally sustained in Game 4 that kept him out of half that game and the team’s ensuing Game 5 loss.
That left the Lakers trailing 3-2 in the series, after winning Games 2 and 3 with the big man leading the way with 34 points in each outing.
Davis’ availability Thursday came down to a gametime decision in which the Lakers’ medical staff ultimately cleared the veteran big man to play.
It didn’t take long to see Davis wasn’t healed up enough to compete. Davis spent two days resting and recovering ahead of Game 6, but that time period proved insufficient.
“He’s a warrior. We knew it was gonna be difficult for him to move,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He certainly wasn’t moving well at all to start the game.”
That became apparent as Booker drove through the lane in the opening quarter with Davis defending. The power forward winced in pain trying to contest the shot, before dropping near the Lakers’ bench with 6:35 remaining in the first quarter. The team’s medical staff promptly attended to the eight-time All-Star before escorting him to the locker room.
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The Lakers announced minutes later that Davis was questionable to return, and eventually ruled him out, as the Suns built a 36-14 lead after the first quarter behind Booker’s pinpoint 6-of-6 performance from 3-point range. Booker tied a playoff record, and individually outscored the Lakers 22-14 in the process.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, this marked the third postseason of James’ career that the second-leading scorer on his team didn’t play in every game of the series.
The Suns led by as many as 29 points on the night, but you knew at some point that four-time champion James would lead a late Lakers rally.
Late in the third quarter, the Lakers pulled to within 12 points as they employed lineups with James at center that improved spacing, not to mention their ability to switch defensively. Los Angeles closed the gap to 10 points with 8:06 remaining on a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope putback.
Then, James headed to the bench with 7:29 remaining. Phoenix quickly built back the lead to 17 points in just 46 seconds as Chris Paul scored or assisted on the Suns’ next seven points to put his team up 101-84.
Los Angeles’ surprising first-round exit leaves several questions for the franchise to answer in the offseason, ranging from which free agents to prioritize on the roster, to which free agents to bring in to play alongside James and Davis.
As for Phoenix, the Suns for right now will just bask in the glory of capturing their third-consecutive postseason win for the first time since 2010, when they swept San Antonio in the West semifinals (part of a six-game run that began in the first round vs. Portland).
“We knew we weren’t going to get to where we wanted to go without going through [the Lakers], and it just happened to be [in] the first round,” Booker said.
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