Los Angeles – The Phoenix Suns, fueled by 47 points from Devin Booker, toppled the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers 113-100 on Thursday, marking the first time superstar LeBron James has been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
James scored 29 points to lead the Lakers, but they were unable to dig themselves out of a 29-point first-half hole and lost the best-of-seven series 4-2.
The last defending champion to be knocked out in the first round was the San Antonio Spurs in 2015.
“That’s the only way we wanted it to be honest,” Booker said of drawing the Lakers in the first round.
“We knew we weren’t going to get to where we wanted to go without going through them, and it happened to be in the first round.
“It was a tough matchup all the way through. Once they got us down 2-1 we had to regroup and get everything right and we came in and we battled,” added Booker, whose team next faces the Denver Nuggets, who eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday with a 126-115 victory in Game 6 of their series.
James, who won his fourth NBA title when he led the Lakers to victory in the quarantine bubble in Orlando last season, had never lost in the first round in 14 prior playoff appearances.
He and the Lakers clearly felt the absence of star Anthony Davis, who was a game-time decision to start after missing the second half of Game 4 and all of Game 5 with a groin strain.
Davis, clearly hindered by the injury, lasted less than six scoreless minutes and the Suns grabbed the game by the throat in the first quarter, with Booker scoring 22 points in the opening period.
“He’s a warrior,” Vogel said of Davis. “It was difficult for him to be able to move. We did everything we could from a treatment standpoint to loosen it up and we were hoping that some in-game adrenaline would help.
“But he certainly wasn’t moving well at all to start the game and then went down grabbing at it early in the first.”
With the series in the balance, Davis said, “I obviously didn’t want to just lay down.
“I wanted to do what I can,” he said. “It never felt good, but the competitive nature in me wanted to go out and help the team as best as I could. But my body didn’t agree.”
Davis and James both said that a series of injuries along with absences due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols prevented the champions from reaching their potential.
“Obviously (we) fell short of our goal, but we tried to do everything we could to be as good as we could be,” James said.
Meanwhile, Booker made eight of nine shots from the floor in the first quarter, including going 6-for-6 from three point range.
The Suns led 36-14 after the first quarter and the Lakers never got the deficit below double digits.
“Credit the Suns,” Vogel said. “They came out and made their first seven threes or something. Booker was red-hot to start the game. They put us in the deficit and it was too much to overcome.”
The Suns have won three straight games to reach the second round for the first time since 2010, when they fell to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals in their most recent playoff appearance.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this moment so it wasn’t time to shy away from it,” Booker said. “Plenty of hours of sacrificing a lot of life to this game. So I wanted to put it on full display tonight.”
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