The Los Angeles Lakers, playing in their first NBA postseason game at the Staples Center since 2013, held on for a 109-95 win against the Phoenix Suns to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven opening round series.
Just like in the first two rounds of last year’s championship run in the NBA Bubble, the Lakers dropped the first game of the series, 99-90, but have bounced back powered by the resurgence of eight-time All-Star Anthony Davis.
Now in his second season and playoff campaign with LA, Davis scored 34 points and collected 11 rebounds. He became just the fifth Laker to record at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in two consecutive postseason games, joining some of the league’s all-time greats on that historic list.
Davis has bounced back strongly from his lowly 13-point outing in Game 1, utilizing his physical advantage against Phoenix’s overmatched front court. The 6’10 Davis’ main defender, Jae Crowder, also covered him in last season’s NBA Finals when he was with the Miami Heat. Renowned for his lower body strength and intelligent play, Crowder’s four-inch height disparity has been difficult to overcome.
Davis has preyed on Phoenix’s front court in this series, with ten of his 11 made field goals in Game 3 coming inside the paint. This Suns playoff run could be short-lived if they are unable to find an answer for Davis who is already a difficult match-up for all but a handful of players in the league.
The strong showing from Davis in front of the Lakers’ home crowd came despite multiple injury scares in the first half. Davis hyperextended his knee on an awkward landing after an early block attempt on Devin Booker. He also found himself writhing in pain on the floor after taking a DeAndre Ayton elbow to the face in a separate incident.
The knee injury seemed to still bother Davis in the early parts of the second half as he limped around the court and even missed a dunk, but he managed to score 18 points in the third quarter alone to extend the Lakers’ three-point halftime lead to 13 entering the fourth period.
The 28-year-old Davis shrugged off the knee injury in the postgame interview but welcomed the two-day break before these two teams reconvene at Downtown Los Angeles for Game 4.
Davis was not the only Laker to hyperextend his knee during the game, as starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left in the third quarter after suffering a similar injury while defending Booker. LeBron James has also played below his usual level as he continues to recover from an ankle injury that forced him to miss several games late in the regular season.
Despite all of the banged-up players on the Lakers’ roster, the most impactful injury of this series has been the shoulder injury that Phoenix’s Chris Paul suffered in the early goings of Game 1.
The Suns’ key offseason acquisition has played through pain and continuously tends to his shoulder while on the court. Unfortunately, Paul has looked like a shell of himself, posting pedestrian stat lines compared to the lofty standards that he has set over his storied career, but continues to serve as the vocal leader of this young Phoenix roster.
The strong play of Ayton, who has averaged 21.6 points and 12.3 rebounds in his debut playoff series, has not been enough to keep the Suns afloat. Meanwhile, Booker struggled from the field in Game 3 after averaging 32.5 points in the first two games. He found himself ejected for a flagrant foul at the end of the game after shoving Dennis Schroder, so he’s going to have to keep his cool too.
These two young stars will need to continue carrying most of the load for the Suns with Paul hampered by his injury, but they will need support from the rest of the roster. Reserve guard Cam Payne has scored in double digits in the last two games, but Phoenix will need big shooting performances from Crowder, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson if they want to have a chance to make it to the second round.
Though Los Angeles has taken a 2-1 lead with another home game coming up, this team does not look as dominant as the one that won the franchise’s 17th title last season. Davis and James are still two of the league’s best players, but the roster has yet to find the same level of chemistry and rhythm that allowed last year’s team to thrive.
A few more postseason games together will only help these Lakers round into form, but they will remain vulnerable as they attempt to figure each other out. This gives Phoenix a prime opportunity to oust the defending champions and establish themselves as a true Western Conference contender, but it remains to be seen whether these young Suns are up to the task.
Game 4 of this series will once again be played in the league’s most glamorous arena, but it promises to be another gritty match-up between two hobbled teams who have no intention of backing down.