Lakers Use Bully Ball to Bludgeon Suns

L.A. takes 2-1 edge over Phoenix in series with runaway win
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A trademark of head coach Fran Vogel’s team all season, the Los Angeles Lakers smothered the Phoenix Suns with sticky defense, earning a 109-95 victory on Thursday night at Staples Center and taking a 2-1 series lead in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.

About 7,000 rowdy fans in attendance watched the Lakers’ playoff first game in L.A. since 2013.

“We want to make everything difficult,” Vogel said. “Obviously, this is a high-powered offense, one of the best offenses in the league. … Our guys are just competing. We have a scheme in place to try and make things difficult for them, limit certain things. It’s not always perfect, but our guys are playing so hard. They’re playing with that playoff intensity.”

Up 43-40 at the half, the Lakers opened the second half on a 16-6 run, taking control of the game and the series. Los Angeles took a 13-point lead with just over six minutes left in the third quarter and held onto a 76-63 advantage at the end of the third.

Los Angeles extended that lead to 21 points with 7:24 left on a reverse lay-in by LeBron James that brought the crowd to its feet and seemingly put the game away.

“It feels good for me personally for me to be able to make plays for my teammates,” said James, who dealt with a right, high-ankle sprain for the second half of the regular season and into the playoffs. “It’s all I care about. I don’t care about what anybody else thinks outside our locker room and support system. … Obviously, it’s been a rough year for me, as far as physically with my ankle, dealing with that and still trying to get it back to where it was before the injury.

“But every day is a step forward, and I continue to put the work in with treatment around the clock, getting it to where it was before the injury.”

The Suns kept things interesting, cutting L.A.’s advantage to eight points with 2:40 left on a Jae Crowder three-pointer. But they would get no closer.

Anthony Davis led the way for the Lakers with his second straight dominant performance. Davis finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds. James chipped in 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Dennis Schröder added 20 points and four assists.

Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 22 points -- his third straight game with at least 20 points. Devin Booker added 19 points and Cameron Payne contributed 15 points.

Booker was ejected from the game for pushing Schröder to the ground on a drive to the basket with 35 seconds left. Crowder followed Booker to the locker room when he received a technical and was ejected for jawing with Schröder.

“That just can’t happen,” Davis said about Booker’s play. “Hard fouls, things like that, playoff basketball. We accept those, but just to blatantly push a guy with two hands out of the air, it’s a scary play. Good thing he’s OK, but plays like that, it’s unacceptable.”

Top player: Wesley Matthews hit back-to-back three-pointers early in the fourth quarter to help spark L.A.’s run, giving the Lakers’ offense a perimeter threat. Matthews also played well on the defensive end of the floor, finishing with eight points in 18 minutes.

What I liked: The Lakers bottled up Phoenix defensively, holding the suns to 43 percent shooting from the field. Los Angeles also held a 51-35 rebound advantage and 58-38 edge in paint points.

What I didn’t like: The Lakers turned it over 20 times, leading to 20 points for the Suns.

Injuries: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope suffered a left leg injury in the third quarter and had to go to the locker room for further evaluation. The Lakers announced that Caldwell-Pope was diagnosed with a left quad contusion and did not return. Phoenix guard Chris Paul still seemed to be feeling the effects from a bruised right shoulder that limited him in the first two games of the series. Paul finished with seven points and six assists in 27 minutes.

They said it: “It’s always special to play in front of the Lakers’ faithful. We hope our numbers rise as the series goes on and get more and more fans into the building. But it’s a beautiful thing.” – LeBron James on playing in front of Lakers fan in the playoffs for the first time.