LOS ANGELES — Deandre Ayton recorded his third consecutive double-double in the Phoenix Suns’ first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, but it was not enough as the Lakers won Game 3 109-95 Thursday night at Staples Center to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Suns got a 21-point Lakers lead down to eight on two occasions in the fourth quarter, but they could not get any closer. Cameron Payne (15 points, six assists) largely spearheaded the rally, again finishing the game at point guard after Chris Paul (seven points, six assists, five rebounds) left the contest after falling to the floor early in the final period.
Until that spurt, however, the Suns struggled to make shots against the NBA’s most efficient defense during the regular season. The Lakers also out-rebounded Phoenix 51-35, contributing to their 20 second-chance points and 58 points in the paint.
Suns All-Star Devin Booker finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Game 4 is at 12:30 p.m. Arizona time Sunday and will be televised by ABC.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Deandre Ayton: “Being poised throughout this series is key and taking our time. Sticking together, especially in games like this get lit and amped up, we just have to maintain discipline and just play the basketball we know.”
Cameron Payne: “Honestly, I just feel like we’ve got to stay locked in as a group through the ups and downs, through the adversity. We’re on the road. For the most part, I always feel like we do good on the road cause we’re such a tightknit team. Being on the road never really affected us because of how close we are off the court.”
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Deandre Ayton: 22 points (11-15 FG), 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal
Devin Booker: 19 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds
Cameron Payne: 15 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 steals
Torrey Craig: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
Chris Paul: 7 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal
Cameron Payne plays with a fiery passion that somehow looks both free and furious, prompting some to compare him to the “haboob” dust storms that disrupt the Valley air during the summer monsoon season. It’s a fitting style for Payne, a former lottery draft pick who had his NBA career stripped away in early 2019 and is now savoring his shot on a Suns team with championship aspirations.
LIVING UP TO THE MOMENT
Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson showed consistent effort all season, preparing them for the bright lights. They lived up to the moment in Game 1 and, in some cases, churned out historic stat lines — even during an intense game complete with the magnitude of the franchise’s first playoff game since 2010, a jarring injury to their Hall of Fame point guard and a scuffle that resulted in a teammate being ejected.
There are enough “Montyisms” for Monty Williams to write a compilation book — which Devin Booker has publicly and privately suggested to his coach. Even while repeating them to players, Cam Johnson said, Williams will preface by acknowledging some might call them “corny” or “goofy” or “coach speak.” Yet Johnson says those mantras are “big-time anchors” that have kept the Suns emotionally centered during the franchise’s emphatic rise to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. They create personal connections with players by instilling belief and relaying constructive advice. They provide reminders that resurface in the head and heart when one least expects it, and can apply to both basketball and life.
RALLY THE VALLEY
Suns.com gathered personal stories from 13 people connected to the organization. Some are longtime fans, and others are long-time employees in behind-the-scenes roles. Some are community partners who work with the Suns to make residents’ lives a little brighter. Some are natives, and some have returned home.
“You look around the league at some teams, and not everybody has a vibe like this or an energy like this throughout,” Booker said. “I always say it’s a great environment to get better in. When you have everybody supporting you, everybody being honest with you — those are the same people that can give me constructive criticism at any point in the game, and I’m listening to them — that’s the name of our group, man.”
Culture, chemistry and overall spirit are intangible qualities that cannot be measured by traditional stats or advanced analytics. But players and coaches know it — feel it — when those attributes have manifested within a team.