LOS ANGELES — A combination of stout defense and balanced offense led the Phoenix Suns to a 100-92 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday afternoon at Staples Center to even their first-round playoff series 2-2.
Chris Paul finished with a team-high 18 points and added nine assists in his best performance since sustaining a right shoulder injury during Game 1. Devin Booker (17 points, seven rebounds, five assists), Jae Crowder (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists) and Deandre Ayton (14 points, 17 rebounds) were also heavy contributors.
The Suns took control in the third quarter, outscoring the Lakers 27-15 to propel them to lead by as many as 18 points during a half that Los Angeles played without All-Star Anthony Davis due to a groin injury. Phoenix held the Lakers to 39.5 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers for 19 points.
Game 5 is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Phoenix Suns Arena.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Cameron Payne on Chris Paul: He was big time. The game is a lot easier when he’s out there. We’re a much better team. He’s been the quarterback all season. It’s always a blessing to have him out there with us. He shot the ball. That was a plus. He was able to find people. That was a plus. It was just great to have him out there with us tonight.”
Chris Paul on playing with the shoulder injury: “I’m just glad that me and Coach got the relationship where we can have that kind of conversation. We talked about it. I told the guys, I said, ‘I don’t know if it’ll be two minutes. I don’t know if it’ll be 32 minutes, but I feel like I’ve got to try to give you what I’ve got.’”
Devin Booker on returning to Phoenix: “I’m looking forward to it, man. I just hit my socials and said, ‘Back to the desert.’ I know we’ve got an extra 5,000 in there from last game. It’s something we’re really looking forward to. Just the atmosphere that we’ve been around, just the atmosphere that this organization, this fanbase and this city’s been waiting on. First two games, it felt like it was a full house already, so with addition of 5,000 more, I’m sure it’s going to be jumping in there.”
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Chris Paul: 18 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals
Devin Booker: 17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal
Jae Crowder: 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Deandre Ayton: 14 points (6-8 FG), 17 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Cameron Payne: 13 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
Mikal Bridges: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 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.
“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.