LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers experienced what their Pacific Division rivals got a taste of in Game 1. A star player getting injured. It was also a big uh-oh moment for the NBA’s defending champions.
The jaw-dropping gasp comes as a result of seeing forward Anthony Davis head into the locker room after just over 19 minutes of action, and never to return back to the STAPLES Center court. After fighting through a myriad of maladies during the regular season which caused him to miss half (36 games) of the NBA regular season, Davis left the Lakers’ 100-92 defeat with a reported left groin strain.
Not good. The series just flipped. Davis is expected to be out of the lineup for Game 5. Without the services of Davis, the Lakers went from favorites to win the series to a team suddenly scrambling to find out out what to do next.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) May 30, 2021
“Well, obviously, you have a game plan going into a game, how you want to execute, offensively and defensively,” Lakers forward LeBron James said in a postgame press conference. “And the one thing you can’t predict if one of your focal points go down. Obviously, that was big for our team, having to adjust on the fly after having a game plan. It was challenging for us, but more importantly, the health of A.D. [Anthony Davis] is what’s most important for our ballclub.”
What does that mean for the Lakers? Well, it means that the series between the Lakers and the Suns is now tied at 2-2. It means that the series is now down to which team can win two out of the next three games. Finally, it also means that the road to winning another NBA title is staying healthy.
Last season, the Lakers stayed healthy. The result was the franchise’s 17th NBA championship. This is the first round of the NBA playoffs, and already the Lakers are feeling the pinch of being beset with injuries. It’s early in the postseason, but long-distant shooting ace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was hit by a left knee contusion in Game 3.
And now Davis wasn’t able to finish Game 4. Battling through injuries is nothing new for Davis. The eight-time NBA All-Star has never played a full season in his nine years in the league. During last season’s playoff run, Davis’ third try in the postseason, the Lakers star went off, averaging 29 points in the first round against Portland, scoring 25 points a game against Houston, and erupting for 31 points a game in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets.
To boot, Davis dropped 25 points a night against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Davis is perhaps the invaluable valuable on the Lakers roster. With three remaining in the best-of-seven series against the Suns, the Lakers are going to need Davis for at least two games if they are to move on to the next round.
? In the last 35 years, only players with 75+ points and 50+ rebounds through first 4 career playoff games:
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 31, 2021
“He’s one of the best players in the world, so you have to adjust,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel on Davis leaving Game 4 early. “I thought we gave great effort in trying to overcome that loss, but certainly it wasn’t enough.”
The Lakers now know what it feels like when the other shoe drops. That lump in the throat that the Suns were feeling in Game 1 when Chris Paul suffered what appeared to be a stinger, has all of Los Angeles being antsy. When Paul went down early in Game 1, he didn’t look or play anywhere near the All-Star level he’s used to playing.
That is until Game 4. After three games of floundering, the Suns veteran point guard resembled the Chris Paul of old. If the No. 2 seeded Suns are to take the series away from the No. 7 Lakers, Phoenix is going to need every ounce of a healthy Paul to help them achieve that goal.
Paul arrived at the perfect moment to help the Suns force some kind of resistance to the Lakers’ repeat title chances.
“He was big-time,” Phoenix guard Cameron Payne said of Paul’s 18 points and nine assists in the Suns’ road win. “Like I said before, the game is a lot easier when he’s out there. We’re a much better team. He’s been the quarterback the whole season, so it’s always a blessing to have him out there with us. He shot the ball. That was a plus. He was able to find people, that was a plus. So, it was just great to have him with us tonight.”
Both Davis and Caldwell-Pope are both day-to-day. The good thing is neither has been ruled out for the series. That would have severe consequences for the Lakers on both sides of the ball. Besides raining 3-pointers out of the sky on a regular, Caldwell-Pope is also a tenacious defensive player. So far, he has made life for Phoenix star Devin Booker’s life not so easy.
Then there is the matter of Davis. Without Davis on the floor in the second half, the Lakers seemed off-kilter. Minus Davis, the Lakers’ offense was clearly stagnant and lacked space creativity as the Suns packed in the paint and force Los Angeles to throw up a ton of 3-pointers (13 of 40), which they were not too successful at (32 percent).
With Davis (19 minutes of game action) not being able to go, Phoenix reversed Game 3’s outcome when they were outrebounded by the Lakers (51-35) and found themselves being bullied inside as Los Angeles dominated, scoring 58 points in the paint. Game 4 told quite a different tale, especially with Davis not out on the court.
The Lakers still outrebounded Phoenix (50-49) but they were not able to control the game the way they did in Game 3. In this game, Phoenix held the Lakers to 36 points down low. On the flip side, the Suns managed to score 44 points themselves in the paint. What a difference a game makes.
“It’s called a series for a reason,” Booker said. “Every game has its own different personality. There’s going to be highs and lows throughout. You know, there’s going to be emotional plays. There’s going to be arguing. There’s going to be a lot of extra to it, but having a quick memory, getting over your last loss, and moving on to the next game…and I’m proud of our team.”
Dealing with injuries is is not something Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and his team had to encounter last season in their title chase. But being the champs doesn’t automatically grant you immunity from injuries. If the regular season was a test, the Lakers should be the one team that is most prepared to handle this type of adversity.
Davis missed a chunk of time. The team’s other superstar, LeBron James was sidelined for weeks before coming back just before the regular season ended. Speaking of the regular season, Phoenix averaged 116 points a game. In Game 4, the Suns hit the 100-point plateau for the first time in this series. That’s still 16 points below their average from the regular season.
For the Lakers, a healthy Davis, along with all-around stellar defensive play from everyone else, are the chief reasons for keeping the Suns’ high-flying offense grounded. To win two more games, it’s going to take that and a little bit more to defeat the pesky Suns.
“Whether he’s out there or not, we’re going to have to play a different style of basketball,” Lakers reserve forward Kyle Kuzma said.
Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) setting a pick for LeBron James (23) against the Phoenix Suns. File Photo/Mark Hammond/News4usonline