By Terrance Turner
June 3, 2021
The Los Angeles Lakers worked valiantly to escape elimination in tonight’s Game 6 match versus the Phoenix Suns. Down three games to two, the Lakers were fighting to avoid becoming one of only five defending champions to lose in the first round of the playoffs. Only four defending champions have been eliminated on their home court; this game was in L.A.’s Staples Center. But it wasn’t to be. In a game that was over nearly from the moment it began, the Suns stunned the Lakers with an offensive explosion.
The Suns jumped out to a 14-5 lead after three major three-pointers by Jae Crowder. Then, after being pushed out of bounds by Suns star Devin Booker, Lakers player Anthony Davis was seen grimacing in pain. He had evidently aggravated a groin injury incurred earlier in the season. Five minutes into the opening quarter, Davis was on the ground — and then off the court. Then Suns guard Chris Paul re-injured an already injured shoulder and had to sit out.
The Suns took advantage of the moment. Booker nailed consecutive three-pointers to extend the lead. It was 27-10 after the injury breaks. Despite three turnovers, they maintained a commanding lead. As the first quarter wound down, Davis was listed as “questionable” for the game. Then Booker hit yet another three, making it 30-12 with just over a minute left. Booker then sunk his sixth three-pointer of the game, typing a playoff record. He had 22 points at the end of the quarter.
As the second quarter continued, the Suns were red-hot, raining down threes. The lead grew even more, stretching to over 20 points as time went on. Even after a 10-2 run by the Lakers, the Suns still led 50-29 with five minutes left in the quarter. Los Angeles managed to narrow the lead with some tough, competitive play, but Phoenix maintained an advantage throughout. With 1:53 left, LeBron James had a three-point play, making a basket and nailing a free-throw to bring the Lakers within range. Then he fought for possession with a Suns player to make it a jump ball. The Lakers kept possession until a missed shot by Kyle Kuzma (who scored just two points in tonight’s game).
With under a minute left in the half, the Suns suffered their eighth turnover of the game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope swatted the arm of Torrey Craig as he went up for a shot. Craig fell to the ground; shortly afterward Pope was seen shoving Jae Crowder. After the player fell to the ground, officials reviewed the foul to see if it was a flagrant. After a lengthy review, Pope was called for a flagrant foul. (Jason Phillips, VP of replay operations, explained that there was a potential for injury during the play.) The score was 62-41 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Phoenix stayed on top. But a spirited effort by Los Angeles slowly narrowed their lead. By the midpoint of the quarter, the Lakers had trimmed the Suns’ lead to fifteen. Then a masterful drive to the basket by James made it thirteen. The Suns led 77-64 at the break. James’ pass to Matthews trimmed the lead even further. With 3:26 left, the Suns were up 79-67. But the Lakers were closing in. It was 89-76 at the end of the third quarter.
As the fourth quarter began, the Suns had possession. But after a miss by Paul, the Lakers cashed in. Booker responded with a basket of his own. But the Lakers would not go away. They battled the Suns, even down to a tussle on the floor between James and Booker. Their struggle for the ball led to a jump ball. The Lakers gained possession. A foul call resulted, and Matthews nailed both free throws to make it a 12-point game. Then Pope drove to the hoop, bringing the Lakers within 10 points for the first time since the first quarter. Later, with four and a half minutes left, they trailed by only 11.
But that would be as close as they would get. A late-period surge by the Suns padded their lead and kept the game out of reach. Booker was 8-for-10 from 3, scoring a stunning 47 points. The Phoenix Suns won, 113-100. They will face the Denver Nuggets in Round 2 of the NBA playoffs.