The Phoenix Suns are one game away from closing out Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers following Tuesday’s 115-85 beat down in game five that was one of the worst losses in James playoff career.
Devin Booker came out red hot in the first quarter, dropping 18 points and proceeded to finish with 30 points in 33 minutes.
It was a big victory to say the least and now Phoenix can slay the seventh-seeded dragon heading back to Staples Center for Thursday’s game six. Here’s three takeaways as the Suns took the 3-2 lead in the series:
Lakers Lost Without Davis
Without center Anthony Davis on the floor on Tuesday night, the Lakers offense struggled mightily. In response, the Suns did what a good team should do. They took advantage and attacked LA’s weakness.
With the Lakers struggling, Booker attacked the basket and continued to generate open looks in the first quarter. Two of his impressive and-ones seemed to be a symbol for how the night was going to go for the road team. LA finished shooting just 34.5 percent from the field and 12-for-35 from downtown.
Booker makes this circus and-1 shot 😨 pic.twitter.com/Qqm1uPnIGh
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 2, 2021
James finished with a respectable 24 points, but on a night where he needed to have one of his notable breakthrough performances, it wasn’t enough. And quite frankly, his teammates just didn’t do enough to help him out. Similar to game four, without Davis, LA wasn’t the same team.
Plain and simple, the Suns have been the better team without AD on the floor and the Laker reserves haven’t been able to step up. Advantage: Phoenix.
“You got to credit the Suns. They are playing terrific basketball. Second best record in the NBA,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “They are a really good team. We have to be on our game, and we weren’t on either side of the ball tonight.”
James also put out his thoughts on if Davis isn’t in the lineup in Thursday’s game six and how he’ll prepare.
“My mindset for me is that he’s not going to be able to play in game six. That’s my mindset and I’m going in with that,” James said. “…If something changes, we’ll go from there but I’m preparing as if he’s not.”
House of Payne
Once again, Cam Payne was an x-factor. An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Payne is giving the front office every case for why he should be paid.
Payne dropped 16 points in 19 minutes and he was a spark plug. While Chris Paul has been up and down battling with his upper body injury this postseason, Payne has stepped up in the biggest of ways to be a reliable three-point presence and stretch the floor.
Cam Payne may be playing himself right out of Phoenix. He's going to get PAAAAIIIIDDDD this summer…
— Brad Cesmat (@bradcesmat) June 2, 2021
A 2015 Oklahoma City Thunder first-round pick, Payne was released after a few seasons in OKC. He spent three seasons with Chicago and then had to battle his way through the G-League and a short stint playing overseas in China before making the most of his opportunity here in Phoenix.
He is one of the feel-good stories of the postseason for the Suns and his efforts have been crucial thus far through five games on the biggest stage against the defending champs.
“The way I work now, I work to not have my job taken away. Before, I was probably comfortable I would say,” Payne said during a media availability last week. “…They always say young guys, older guys will tell you everything, but we don’t always listen. From being out the league, every time I get an opportunity, every practice I can get better at something. So I work hard and I work to keep my job. I got to earn it all. I go in humble but confident and the work shows.”
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) June 2, 2021
A Suns team with very little playoff experience has had every opportunity to fold under the bright lights of the postseason thus far, but they have not yet wavered. Tuesday was no better indication. It’s a credit to Monty Williams and the job he’s done to get his team prepared.
In a a pivotal, momentum-shifting game on home court, the Suns didn’t blink and played exactly how they should. Now they have to answer one last bell. Can they deliver the knockout blow at Staples or will they have to succumb to a game seven against one of the greatest players of all-time?
That assassin mentality will be put to the test going into game six. Does Booker step up once more like he did on Tuesday night, and does Deandre Ayton continue to assert himself? After re-tweaking his shoulder, is Chris Paul healthy enough to contribute in a positive way and stick the final fork into LA?
There’s still questions to be answered, and only the action on the floor on Thursday will give us the answers. For the Suns players who haven’t been in the situation before, it will be the ultimate test against the defending champs.
For now though, the Lakers will look to heal their wounds after a pummeling in the Valley in game five.
“We got our ass kicked. It’s that simple,” said Lebron James after the Suns stomping on Tuesday. “…They pretty much just kicked our ass. There’s really nothing else to say.”