This game may have been decided before the teams ever took the court: The second it became official Anthony Davis would be out with a groin strain Los Angeles was in serious trouble. The Lakers were 1-6 this season against playoff teams when Davis was out but LeBron James played.
Or, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered the way the Suns played Tuesday night.
Phoenix came out dialed in on offense with a fired up Devin Booker — 18 in the first quarter — plus they were connected on defense. LeBron James made some plays early and kept his team in it, but the Lakers were passing up good shots they should have taken and were missing the ones they did. Defensively, the Lakers are not nearly the same without their best defender, rim protector, and anchor in Davis.
The Lakers appeared to weather the storm and trailed by eight after one quarter, but it turned out the storm was just about to hit land: The Suns dominated the second quarter 32-10 as the Lakers went ice cold and shot 2-of-17. LeBron could not lift the Lakers — he shot 3-of-10 in the first half and was not blowing guys like Mikal Bridges, who he usually overpowers. LeBron was -25 in the first 24 minutes. Devin Booker scored 22 in the half, no Laker was in double figures.
Booker (30 PTS & 7 REB) came up big in the Suns' Game 5 win ♨️ pic.twitter.com/mVni9GaWKV
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 2, 2021
It was 66-36 Suns at the half, and the final 24 minutes felt like a mere formality.
Phoenix won Game 5 handily, 115-85, and took a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Whether Davis can play in that must-win game for the Lakers will be a game-time decision, but LeBron said after the loss, “My mindset is that he’s not going to be able to play in Game 6.” The problem is the Lakers’ roster — which has taken heavy criticism on NBA Twitter — is a binary star system needing two stars to function. The Lakers’ role players were brought in to play off the versatility Davis brings as a big on both ends. Without him, nothing fits right.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of and we’ll find out how bad we want this,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Game 6.
The Suns had their own scary injury moment when Chris Paul appeared to aggravate the shoulder injury that slowed him down for a couple of games this series — the two Suns’ losses — after a run-in with the Lakers’ Wesley Matthews.
Paul left the game but later returned. He said after the game his should was banged up but he would be good to go for Game 6. He also said it was not a dirty play by Matthews; Paul said he had been looking at the ball and didn’t see the contact coming.
The defending NBA Champion Lakers are now one loss away from being bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Suns veterans Jae Crowder and CP3 spoke after the game about how hard it will be to close out a LeBron-led Lakers team on the road, saying Phoenix will have to play its best game still to advance.
But if Anthony Davis isn’t suited up, that task is a lot easier.