Success in the playoffs is achieved by taking advantage of mismatches regardless of circumstance and Game 5 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns was a prime example.
With Anthony Davis out due to a strained left groin, the Suns pounced on the reeling Lakers with a 115-85 thrashing that put them a win away from eliminating the defending champions and advancing to the semifinals. Devin Booker broke out after two quiet games and scored 30 points on a lackluster LA defense that seemed out of sorts without their defensive anchor.
The offense also looked much more stagnant even with LeBron James, considering the gravity he and AD draw when they are both on the court at the same time. Open shots were not as “open” as they were before and the lack of playmaking (especially with James on the bench) lessened the impact of the Lakers’ ball movement. The 17 turnovers proved costly as well, as the Suns scored 23 points off those errors.
Alex Caruso, Dennis Schroder, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combining for five points stood out like a sore thumb and likely made things easier for Phoenix defensively. The Lakers shot a paltry 34 percent from the field, with only James, Kyle Kuzma, and Talen Horton-Tucker finishing in double figures. With LeBron being the obvious focus of the Suns defense, the rest of the Lakers must step up with whatever opportunities will come.
Defensively, what stood out was the 44-32 points in the paint advantage Phoenix had over Los Angeles. Having no Davis certainly factored into this, but the eight fouls between Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol created a gaping hole in the middle during certain stretches of the game.
It was, however, encouraging to see Davis active on the sidelines, but him coaching his teammates during dead-ball situations can only do so much, as his on court production trumps any advice he can offer to the likes of Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Markieff Morris.
There were, however, some positives to be gained from today’s game that can be carried over. Deandre Ayton was relatively a non-factor in this contest, but his teammates on the perimeter picked up the slack. Ayton has been effective when capitalizing off the Suns’ misses and passes from Booker, Chris Paul, and Cameron Payne. Limiting his activity on both ends of the floor will also be helpful for the Lakers’ cause. In terms of three point-shooting, Los Angeles allowed Phoenix to make only 33.3 percent of their 3-point attempts so the damage (which was quite heavy) was mostly done in the paint.
Rebounding also looked to be in their favor as the Lakers finished with 10 offensive rebounds compared to the three from the Suns, with two of those coming from Drummond. They were able to limit the possessions Phoenix had, but they now need to focus on preventing them from maximizing those possessions.
Moving forward, however, another development to look out for would be the status of Paul, who aggravated his shoulder injury after colliding with Wesley Matthews in the third quarter.
If Paul will sit out Game 6, that would likely mean increased minutes for Payne and more playmaking duties for Booker. Los Angeles has seen enough of Payne, who finished with 16 points in Game 5, to determine how to contain him, while their approach to Booker would have to render his scoring ineffective to the point that he will make some errant passes and take some questionable shot attempts.
The statuses of both Anthony Davis and Chris Paul remain up in the air, but four days of rest dating back to Game 4 could give Davis enough time to recover and return for game action.
With their backs against the wall, the Los Angeles Lakers will have to take every advantage presented to them. The beating they took at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 will likely motivate them to pick up the slack especially with their playoff lives on the line.