LeBron James had never lost a first-round series in his career, 14-0.
This year it was all too much. Too many injuries, both to himself — he admitted postgame he was never completely right coming off a late-season high ankle sprain and — and to Anthony Davis. Too many good role players around him are gone. Too short a turnaround after the bubble to this season. Too many missed shots at the rim and settling for threes.
But mostly, too much Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix never played like a young team unsure of itself in the spotlight, it was the better team all series. That was never more evident than in Game 6 Thursday night. The Suns had a chance to close out the Lakers and were on fire out of the gate, led by Devin Booker who scored 22 points and was 6-of-6 from three in the first quarter.
By the middle of the second quarter, the Suns were up by 29 on a shellshocked Lakers team.
Los Angeles settled itself, made a few runs, but each time Chris Paul slowed the game down, made sure the Suns got a bucket and stopped the bleeding, and the Lakers could never get close.
The Suns went into Staples Center and beat the Lakers 113-100, taking the series 4-2.
Phoenix advances to take on Denver in the second round. That series will start Monday night in Phoenix.
The Lakers are done and head into an offseason full of questions about how to build a championship roster around LeBron and Davis.
Internally the Lakers thought they had that this season, but injuries robbed them of the chance to find out.
“I do think we had a group that could repeat (as champions) if not for the injuries,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
The biggest of those injuries was the groin strain of Anthony Davis, one of the two elite stars the entire Lakers system is built around. He missed Game 5 and gave a valiant effort to go out and be out there for Game 6, but the Booker and Paul tested him from the start, and just 5:26 into the game Davis had to go to the bench in pain and did not return.
“It never really felt good, but the competitive nature in me wanted to go out there and help the team as best as I could,” Davis admitted postgame. “My body didn’t agree.”
While the Lakers were banged up, take nothing away from Phoenix, which had the second-best record in the NBA this season and showed that was no fluke in taking down the defending champions.
Booker finished with a monster night, scoring 47 points on 15-of-22 shooting. Jae Crowder chipped in 18, while CP3 had 12 assists.
Defensively, the Suns packed the paint in Game 6 as they had all series. Without Davis to space the floor — or be able to score inside despite the defense — there were few driving lanes for LeBron, and the Lakers lacked the three-point shooters to make the Suns pay for their choices.
Meanwhile, as Booker and the Suns gained confidence, they started to carve up what had been the best defense in the NBA in the regular season.
It was a validating win for Paul and the Suns. One their fan base has waited a long time for.
The Suns should enjoy this win for 24 hours, but Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets are looming on the horizon now.