In a series that has been about staying healthy as much as it has been about playing well, the Phoenix Suns get their first opportunity Thursday night to eliminate the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The Suns, who took a 3-2 series lead Tuesday with a convincing victory at home, head to Los Angeles for Game 6 appearing ready to deliver on their promise as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
Playing without Anthony Davis because of a left groin strain, the Lakers were not competitive from the outset of Game 5 as the Suns finished off a 115-85 rout. Phoenix grabbed a double-digit lead just past the midway point of the first quarter, led by 20 midway through the second and held a 30-point lead by halftime, 66-36.
Still, the Suns have their own injury concern as veteran point guard Chris Paul aggravated a right shoulder issue that first surfaced in Game 1.
Paul has made just 40 percent of his shots in the series and just two of seven 3-pointers in the five games. Consider that he made multiple 3-pointers in a game 29 times in the regular season.
Paul said the latest injury was more of a scare, sounding as if his presence in Game 6 should be expected, and pushed the spotlight back on the victory and Devin Booker’s game-high 30-point effort.
“It’s gonna be tough,” Booker said. “These are the defending champs. Obviously, they want to protect home court, also. We need it. We want it really bad. So, we’ve got to come in with a next-game mindset and build off of what we did (Tuesday).”
Booker is averaging 26.2 points in his first career playoff series, but it has been anything but consistent. After he scored 34 and 31 in Games 1 and 2, he managed just 19 in Game 3 and 17 in Game 4. After he shot just 33.3 percent from the field in the two off-shooting nights, he was a series-best 56.5 percent from the field in Game 5.
The Lakers are promising all guts and gusto in Game 6, but Davis remains questionable. And it is difficult to replicate his regular-season averages of 21.8 points and 7.9 rebounds.
“If something changes, we go from there,” the Lakers’ LeBron James said about Davis’ status. “I’m preparing as if he’s not (playing).”
James scored 24 points Tuesday, but the rest of the Lakers starters combined for 11. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tried to play through a bruised knee that kept him out of Game 5 but left Tuesday’s game early. Dennis Schroder didn’t score a point while missing all nine of his shots from the field.
“We got our (tail) kicked, it’s just that simple,” James said. “They got to whatever they wanted to get to in this game and we have to be better, obviously, if we want to force a Game 7.”
Being home for Game 6 will help, but the Lakers were at home in Game 4 and fell 100-92 while shooting 39.5 from the field. Davis played 19 minutes in that one before leaving with his groin injury.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of, and how bad we want this,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. Last year in their run to the NBA championship in the Orlando bubble, the Lakers never faced an elimination game, winning their four series by 4-1, 4-1, 4-1 and 4-2.
Should the Lakers win to stay alive in the series, Game 7 would be Saturday in Phoenix.
–Field Level Media