The Phoenix Suns’ starters had long checked out of the game, but the sold-out home crowd of more than 16,000 wanted to keep partying. Those fans erupted when E’Twaun Moore put a move on Alfonzo McKinnie for a score, and when rookie Jalen Smith and Dario Šarić each drained 3-pointers.
The Suns thoroughly dominated the Lakers 115-85 in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series Tuesday night at Phoenix Suns Arena to take a 3-2 lead and set up an opportunity to eliminate the defending champions Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Devin Booker spearheaded the Suns’ onslaught by scoring 18 of his 30 points in the first quarter, mixing silky jumpers with crafty and-1 scores though contact and finishes in the paint. Cameron Payne also scored 10 of his 16 points in the opening frame, igniting a 16-0 Suns run to take control for good. Phoenix then pushed its lead to a franchise-playoff-record 30 points at halftime and 36 points after intermission. The 30-point final scoring margin was the fourth-largest in a playoff game in franchise history, and the largest since a 31-point victory over the Lakers in 2006.
But Phoenix coach Monty Williams was most proud of the Suns’ defensive effort, holding the Lakers to 34.5 percent shooting (the second-lowest playoff opponent field-goal percentage since at least 1983) while forcing 17 turnovers they turned into 23 points. That allowed the Suns to get out in transition and play with flow, as did committing only four turnovers (Phoenix's fewest in a playoff game since turnovers became an official stat) against a Lakers team that was the NBA’s leader in defensive efficiency during the regular season.
Suns’ All-Star point guard Chris Paul re-aggravated his shoulder injury when he hit the floor as Wes Matthews committed a loose-ball foul while attempting to box Paul out. Williams said after the game that Paul “seems to be OK” but did not want to relay any official diagnosis until he gets the injury re-examined Wednesday.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Devin Booker on his performance: "Just wanted to be aggressive. Been studying the games, been watching films and I think I’ve passed out of a lot of easy quick ones. Having conversations with Mont and Chris and all the team and them giving me confidence, some guys setting screens and putting me in position to do what I do."
Chris Paul: "We just stayed the course. They came out and made a couple shots early, but we just played our style. We kept the pace going, sharing the ball. We just played the way that we play."
Monty Williams on the Suns fans: "It was cool. It reminded me of those games when I used to come here and coach against these guys or play against them early in my career… Our guys fed off of that, for sure. When you’re playing that hard and defending like that and you’ve got your crowd behind you, it gives you a little bit more juice. I’m grateful for the fans that came out tonight. I can’t reiterate, I’m grateful for the safety that we have here in this arena. Our fans cheer for us, but they also cheer for us with a great deal of respect and, based on what’s going on around the league, I don’t take that for granted."
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Devin Booker: 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal
Cameron Payne: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal
Mikal Bridges: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks
Cameron Johnson: 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal
Chris Paul: 9 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal
Now in his third season as general manager of the Phoenix Suns, James Jones has taken his knowledge of what it takes to win a ring and is building a roster of like-minded players with high-IQs, unselfish personalities and relentless attitudes both on the court and behind the scenes. The result is Phoenix’s dramatic rise over the past two seasons. The Suns went 51-21 during the 2020-21 regular season, finished second in a loaded Western Conference and enters Tuesday with the opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers.
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.
“To be on the road and have your fans cheering for you, especially when you make a run, is pretty cool," head coach Monty Williams said. "We’re thankful, grateful and we’re fighting our tails off to make those fans that we have in this environment have something to cheer for.”
Whether traveling from Phoenix or different parts of California, Suns.com gathered personal stories from six Suns fans making the trip and cheer on their favorite team.
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.