Suns Fall in Final Minutes in Back-and-Forth Battle with Lakers

Devin Booker LeBron JAmes
by Cody Cunningham

The Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers renewed their rivalry on Tuesday night as two of the hottest teams tipped-off at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns entered the game at 6-3 and the Lakers at 7-2 as it was the first game in the Suns-Lakers series where both teams entered the game with a winning percentage above .500 since April 7, 2012.

It was no longer Charles Barkley vs James Worthy or Steve Nash vs Kobe Bryant, but the new faces of the franchises in Devin Booker and LeBron James took the court as the fans filled the stadium for the highly-anticipated matchup.

The Suns struck first as Booker found Dario Šarić on the baseline for the midrange jumper to give the Suns the early lead. Phoenix went up by as many as nine in the first quarter, led by eight points from Booker on 4-of-6 shooting, but a 6-0 run from the Lakers in the final minute trimmed the Suns lead to just three to end the first.

The second quarter was a back-and-forth battle with seven lead changes as neither team was able to pull away with more than a five-point lead at any given point. The Lakers held a 60-58 lead at halftime, but the Suns were right on their tails with four players (Booker, Šarić, Ricky Rubio, Frank Kaminsky) already in double-digits.

The third quarter was highlighted by one of the biggest surprises of not only the Suns, but the entire NBA this season in Aron Baynes. The big man entered the game as one of the most lethal threats from beyond the arc, shooting 47.4 percent from deep, and he sure didn’t cool off on Tuesday night. After hitting a three-pointer in the first quarter, Baynes caught fire in the third, draining three more from beyond the arc and scoring 13 of the Suns 34 third-quarter points.

Baynes finished the game with 20 points, shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range and tying his career high with 4 three-pointers (Nov. 2 at Memphis). This was Baynes’ fourth 20-point game this season with all coming in his last six games—prior to his last six games, he had four 20-point performances in his first 431 career games. Baynes has 22 three-point makes this season, already a career high, surpassing the 21 three-point makes he had for Boston in 2018-19.

The Suns still found themselves down by three entering the fourth quarter, but Head Coach Monty Williams’ faith in Cam Johnson was a key decision and one that the rookie made the most of. Johnson hit two three-pointers, including one with less than six minutes to go to cut the Lakers lead to just three.

He scored eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter for his second straight game with 10+ points (third this season). Johnson now has 12 three-pointers through his first eight career games—in Suns history, only Trevor Ruffin (15 in 1994-94) had more three-point makes through eight career games. 

With under 3:30 remaining, Rubio found Booker on a fastbreak as the young star took it the distance for the score and the lead. This was Rubio’s 10th assist on the night to go along with just one turnover. In his last two games, Rubio has notched 22 total assists with only turnover.

He also finished the game with 21 points as this was just the second time in Rubio’s career that he recorded consecutive games with 20+ points and 10+ assists (March 28-30, 2017 with Minnesota). This was Rubio’s fourth straight double-double, tying his second-longest career double-double streak.

Unfortunately for the Suns, this would be their last lead of the game. LeBron James hit a three-pointer on the following possession and the Lakers never looked back. Kyle Kuzma followed this up with back-to-back three-pointers as the Lakers closed out the game 123-115.

TOP PERFORMERS

Booker: 21 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 block

Rubio: 21 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds

Baynes: 20 points, 4-6 3P, 6 rebounds, 3 assists

Šarić: Season-high 18 points, 4-6 3P, 7 rebounds, 2 assists

Kaminsky: 16 points, 2-3 3P, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals

Cam Johnson: 11 points, 4 rebounds

KEY STATS

Neither team led by double figures tonight as there were 29 lead changes and 14 ties. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, tonight had the most lead changes of any Suns game in just over a decade since there were also 29 lead changes in a 120-112 Suns win vs. Minnesota on Nov. 1, 2009.

The Suns shot 16-of-38 from three-point range, making 16 tonight after making 19 on Sunday vs. Brooklyn. This is the second time in Suns history they have recorded 16+ three-point makes in consecutive games (also Dec. 8-9, 2014). 

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

COACH WILLIAMS ON CAM JOHNSON: “That’s why he was out there, he was fighting. He stays in front of his man, he’s typically in the right spot. He had a couple situations where we wanted to show and keep the matchup on LeBron and not put Devin on LeBron because we didn’t want Devin to pick up fouls but he’ll get better at that stuff. I like his savvy, he’s not afraid to take big shots. I ran a play for him down the stretch and he had a pretty good look at it, and he spaces the floor for the guys who attack the basket.”

COACH WILLIAMS ON FRANK KAMINSKY: “It was awesome. It’s a credit to hard work, he and Mark Bryant staying in the gym every day and just talking through it. Frank is talented and not afraid to take big shots, and I like the way he battles on defense. It was good to see him go 7-for-10 tonight.”

COACH WILLIAMS ON WHAT THE TEAM CAN LEARN: “How every possession is so important. We have a deep corner situation, maybe I could call a timeout, but I only had one more. We have a play for that, the execution just wasn’t there and we turned it over. And then we had some live ball turnovers that gave them layups. In a game like this, you have to be careful of that kind of stuff. You don’t want guys thinking about what they’re doing, but you have to value every possession.” 

DEVIN BOOKER ON THE TEAM PLAYING HARD: “That hasn’t been a problem for us all season. We are going to try to keep that a thing for us. We are going to come out here and play hard every night. We have done that thus far through the season. It is a long season. I think if we played like we did tonight, with the energy that we did, we will be in pretty good shape.”

DEVIN BOOKER ON CAM JOHNSON: “I like the fight – to be thrown into the fire like that in a big time matchup and high intensity game. I don’t think he has been in that late for us thus far. For coach to throw him in the fire and him showing no back down. He had an assignment, guarding LeBron for a little bit. At the same time, he was hitting big shots. He shows his character. He is ready to play at all times. When he gets his chance, he comes to perform.”

ARON BAYNES ON THE MATCHUP: “It is valuing every single possession. It is moving the  ball and trying to get the best shot as we can. I think that when we do move the ball, we showed tonight, we didn’t get great shots for the team.  Then defensively, that’s where we have to earn it for us. We gave up a couple of things. We’ll look back and see where we can get better. It is not just one guy. It is all five guys. We need to be on a string. It comes down to that time, that’s winning time. That’s what we are trying to get better at every single day. It is good for us to be able to learn from this. We need to learn from it. We need to get better. I have all the faith in Monty that he is going to do it with us.” 

WHAT’S NEXT 

The Suns will look to build off this game as they host the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.

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