As you’ll hear approximately a million times over the next few days, for the first time in his life, LeBron James has been knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. The Suns extinguished the defending champion Lakers on Thursday, clinching their opening-round series 4–2 with a 113–100 victory. Devin Booker scored 47 points in his first career closeout game. Anthony Davis played only five minutes after attempting to play through a groin injury, while LeBron James scored 29 points, adding nine rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes. Here are three thoughts on Phoenix’s win.
Devin Booker Began His Playoff Legend
In his first opportunity to step on an opponent’s throat, Devin Booker put on his combat boots Thursday night. The former No. 13 pick was sublime in Game 6, putting on an explosive shooting display to fend off the Lakers. Booker’s 47 came on 15-of-22 shooting, including a blistering 8-of-10 from three. In multiple instances in which it looked like Los Angeles may close the gap, Booker came back with a huge bucket. It was an incredibly impressive performance from a player long questioned for putting up eye-popping numbers on lottery-bound teams. With Chris Paul hobbled for much of the series, Booker carried the offensive load for Phoenix and did so with aplomb. Book ends his first postseason series with averages of 29.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists a night.
Simply put, this was a superstar turn from Booker. With all the attention on this matchup because of the presence of LeBron and AD, it was Book who was the last star standing. Obviously the Lakers were slowed down by injuries. Still, it’s rare to see a young team dominate so thoroughly in its first taste of a blood-in-the-water game. Regardless of how the rest of their playoff run goes, the Suns’ front office and their fans have to be extremely pleased with how young stars Booker and Deandre Ayton have responded to high-stakes basketball.
LeBron James Emptied the Tank
And it wasn’t enough! It was a strange experience watching James on Thursday. He had pockets of brilliance. And near the end of the third quarter, with the Lakers tightening the screws defensively, James looked like he was primed for one of those runs in which he’s relentlessly attacking the rim. Instead, he never quite found a rhythm, and he needed a couple uncharacteristic rests that his teammates couldn’t survive. I don’t remember the last time James looked so tired in a must-win game. Whether James’s lethargy was a product of the ankle sprain he suffered during the regular season, the short turnaround after last year's championship run or having to carry the team without Davis remains to be seen. I hesitate to describe Thursday as a changing of the guard with all the other factors involved. One thing is for certain: LeBron and the Lakers are going to have very little margin of error in the West moving forward.
Chris Paul’s Luck May Be Turning Around
At the risk of jinxing him forever, this win has to feel good for Chris Paul, a Hall of Fame player with some of the worst playoff luck I’ve ever seen. CP3 has had his personal shortcomings in the postseason. He’s also been snakebitten so many other times. And this year looked to be more of the same after Paul both a) drew the defending champs in Round 1, and b) hurt his shoulder in Game 1. This series looked cooked after three games, when the Lakers were openly toying with the Suns. Then AD got hurt, and even with a hampered Paul, the Suns were able to take advantage. It’s been a long time since things have broken CP3’s way. The Nuggets are looming, and the road won’t get easier in a loaded conference. But for seemingly the first time in his postseason career, things are looking up for Chris Paul.
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