LeBron James has seen this playbook before. Being down 0-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series is nothing new to the four-time world champion. James is familiar with the roller-coaster ride that comes with playing in a seven-game series. There are high moments. There are low moments.
Usually, when James has tasted a low moment during the postseason he responds with an incredible outing in the next game. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to need James to just that after dropping Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns. Behind Devin Booker’s 34 points, the Suns defeated James and the Lakers, 99-90.
James kept his postgame interview session short and sweet with his mindset focused on what the team needs to do in Game 2.
“I’ll be ready for Game 2,” James said in response to a question about his point of view on the NBA stating he had violated league protocols.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 23, 2021
James better not be the only one ready for Game 2. If that is the case, the shadow will be casting high over the Lakeshow with an early 0-2 deficit. That’s the immediate reality for the Lakers. This means James and the Lakers can ill afford to sleep on Phoenix. If they do, they’ll be going home with an early postseason exit.
The Suns, in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, are the No. 2 team in the Western Conference for a reason. Even if the Lakers are favored to win this series, they’re not playing a No. 8 seed as they did against the Golden State Warriors in the league’s play-in tournament. The Suns are the second-best team in the Western Conference for several reasons.
The first is Booker. This is the same Devin Booker who once scored 70 points in a 2017 game against the Boston Celtics. In his sixth year in the league, Game 1 was Booker’s first NBA playoff game. Considered a top scoring threat (25 points a game), Booker serves as Phoenix’s bookend mate to veteran point guard Chris Paul. Both players are thirsty to taste postseason success after a strong regular-season showing.
“We know how great of a team we’re playing,” James said. “That’s why they’re the number two team in the league. But we got to make shots. We did a helluva job defensively. Obviously, Book [ Devin Booker] played exceptionally well…we held this team to 99 points, and we got to put the ball in the hole as well.”
The Lakers can take credit for holding a team that averaged 115 points in the regular season to just 99 points in Game 1. However, as James mentioned, the Lakers have to put the ball in the hole as well. Offensively, the Lakers didn’t do much at all.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) May 23, 2021
As a team, the Lakers couldn’t muster more than 25 points in a quarter against the Suns and shot 43 percent from the field. James had a pedestrian 18 points, and Anthony Davis, who scored 42 points in a 123-110 May 9 Lakers win against Phoenix, dropped a magical number of 13 points. The Lakers missed 11 free throws (17 of 28) and shot 27 percent (7 of 26) from 3-point land. It was not a good day at all for the Purple and Gold at the office.
“I missed a ton of shots. We missed a ton of shots as a team, [we] scored 90 points…really 87 [points] after that AC [Alex Caruso] three,” said Davis. “Missed a lot of free throws.”
So at least for one game, the Suns told the Lakers to put some R-E-S-P-E-C-T on it after beating the defending NBA champions. Phoenix did all of the little things to beat the Lakers in the first game of the series. They were active on defense. They outshot their counterparts (46 percent), outrebounded the Lakers by a double-digit margin (47-33), produced more points in the paint (52-44), and got more second-chance points (21-10).
For Lakers head coach Frank Vogel that is not going to get it done.
“We just got to execute a little better on the offensive side of the ball,” said Vogel. “We got to rebound the ball a little bit better defensively, and we got to make shots. We missed nine layups, eleven free throws and didn’t have a great night at the three-point line. But those things will come back around. We got to look at the tape and figure out ways how we can get better for Game 2.”
The beauty of sports doesn’t allow for teams or individuals to be guaranteed a berth in a championship round. A title is not given to you because of your greatness. All of that is earned. The Lakers got reminded by Booker and the rest of the Suns in game 1 that this not last season. This is not a one-game play-in tournament playoff game.
The Suns, favored or not, have earned the No.2 spot in the Western Conference. Like it or not, the Lakers played their way to a No. 7 seed and had to knock off the Golden State Warriors in a play-in game just to have the right to play Phoenix in the first place. And yet, because of the greatness of James and Davis, the Lakers are the defacto team expected to be back in the NBA Finals.
The thing about sports is that you’re only as good as your last outing or performance. Talking about last season is old news. It’s in the past.
And if the Lakers think they are going to roll over the Suns as they did all the teams they faced last season in the postseason that would be a serious miscalculation on their part. This year’s Lakers team will have to earn a trip to the NBA Finals. There are no guest passes waiting for them at the door.
“We’ve been trying to impress upon our guys in the playoffs you know, defense and rebounding translate,” Phoenix head coach Monty Williams said. “A lot of the time they know your plays, you know their plays. And it comes down to being able to properly space and you got to hit shots. But the defense and the rebounding is something that can translate from the regular season to the postseason. Our defense was decent tonight.”
Featured Image Caption: Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, is defended by Los Angeles Lakers guard Wesley Matthews (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)