Updated: May 24, 2021
In his Playoff debut, Devin Booker’s historic 34 points were enough to give the advantage to the Phoenix Suns over the LA Lakers in game 1 of this first-round playoff series.
This highly anticipated encounter between the red hot Suns and the defending champs was built to be an intriguing battle between two pairs of opposing all-stars. The dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davies, dominate frontcourt who have already proved they can lead their franchise to a chip, up against the chief floor general himself Chris Paul, and his superstar backcourt teammate Devin Booker.
Yet when Paul went down early in the second quarter, LeBron couldn’t find his rhythm and an APB had to be sent out to find Davies, it was Booker on his playoff debut who took center stage and assured his team left game one the victor.
Booker had waited six years for this moment and he wasn’t going to let it pass him by, shooting an amazing 50% from the field and 43% from deep. It was this kind of scoring that created a historic night, as Booker’s 34 points made him the man who has now scored more points than any other player in the Sun’s history in their playoff debut.
Speaking to ESPN sports broadcaster Rachel Nichols after the game Devin Booker said,
“Anything you can do to win the game. That’s our main objective every night, I’m not worried about shots, not worried about anything, just making the right plays to win the game.”
Being the defending champions and having the superstars they do, the La Lakers were the odds on favourites to win this game. Coming into this series LeBron and Davies posted a 75% winning ratio when playing together for the Lakers and the momentum was with the Lakers fresh off defeating the Golden State Warriors in the Play-in Tournament, but on this night they were never truly in control of the game.
An important side note to this game one tie was the overhanging story arch of 14 year best friends LeBron James and Chris Paul meeting in a playoff game for the first time in their illustrious careers. Though I don’t think the night went as planned for either man. LeBron started the game well making his first three shots, cashing two from deep. The tide turned when LeBron was taken out of the game to rest, coming off his recent ankle injury. Without LeBron, the Lakers really struggle to create shots for themselves. With 5 minutes 26 left in the first quarter LeBron left the game with the score tied 17 to 17. By the time LeBron re-entered the game with a minute 58 left in the first, the Lakers trailed 27 to 21 to the Suns. The impact of not having the legendary king James on the court was clearly felt.
On the other hand, floor general Chris Paul had been orchestrating a successful offense for the Suns, as Booker and Paul would beat the Lakers’ double team by finding each other and spreading the play for open shots. By the end of the first quarter, the Suns were 5 in 7 from deep. But an awkward collision with teammate Cameron Johnson, caused Paul to instantly drop the floor clutching at his right shoulder. Paul would leave the game early in the second quarter with a right shoulder contusion.
Booker and Ayton were the men to step up to the mark for the Suns and brushed away any first-time playoff jitters to regain control in Phoenix. The stand-out play came with 5 minutes 55 left in the half, as a determined Booker drove right at the heart of the Lakers defense in transition and slammed the ball into the net. This brought the Phoenix crowd to their feet with further eruptions to come when Chris Paul returned to the game with 5:18 left in the half.
“Chris has carried us this season, helped us a lot, to a lot of wins, so we rallied behind him as brothers and it worked out well for us”, said Booker to ESPN Broadcastor Rachel Nichols post game.
The other half of the Lakers’ dynamic duo is Anthony Davis, who I believe Laker nation are still trying to find his whereabouts. All jokes aside Davies was simply not good enough on the night. With 2: 10 left in the first half Davis was a mere 2 for 7 from the floor, 1 for 2 from the line with zero assists, and a shocking zero rebounds. These are the games Davies has to step up and carry the team on his back when LeBron is off the court. The quality of Davies is undeniable, so I’m sure he will eventually get things going in this series.
The Suns dominated the game once again in the 3rd quarter. Despite the Lakers having the number one ranked defense in the league, the Lakers were no closer to slowly down Booker with the Suns running a very effective hand-back play throughout the 3rd, allowing Booker to create his own shots and find his open teammates.
This type of play opened up the Suns to their biggest lead of the game so far, being up by 15 with 5:32 left in the 3rd. But Chris Paul just didn’t look right out there, constantly losing his handle of the ball, a feature not common in the proficient point guard’s play. So once again Paul had to leave the game and go to the locker room, allowing the Lakers to go on another run lead by Schroder. Call in playoff Book, who without missing a beat rallied the valley and helped the Suns regain a 13 point lead by the time Chris Paul later returned at the end of the 3rd quarter.
The Phoenix heat seemed to have fired up this contest early in the 4th quarter, with the Suns feeling aggrieved by some calls the referees, were making in favor of the Lakers.
With 9:02 left in the 4th LeBron is sent to the line for an and-one play. After LeBron clangs his resulting free throw off the back rim, LeBron tries to jump for the rebound, and while in the air LeBron seems to be slightly undercut by best friend Chris Paul causing an awkward landing onto the floor.
As this occurs, by the sideline it’s all kicking off, as Alex Caruso and Cameron Payne get into a bit of a scuffle off the ball. The situation is further escalated by a freight train named Montrez Harell who just charges into Payne to back up his Laker teammate, this causes all the players and coaches to get in the middle and try to break up the chaos.
The aftermath saw two technical fouls given to either team, but both techs to the Suns were for Cameron Payne’s involvement, which leads to Payne being ejected from the game. The Suns were not to worry as Booker heroics saved the day, with 5:22 left in the 4th, Booker had contributed 14 of the last 16 points for the Suns.
Poor late-game shooting from the Lakers with Lebron, Davies, and Caruso all missing key late-game threes. Allowed Booker and Paul to close out the game 99-90.
This was the Suns’ first playoff appearance in 11 years and the last time they were in the playoffs they were swept by the LA Lakers in 2010. Now the Suns will be looking to rewrite history as they march into game 2 on Wednesday, looking to build on a fantastic opening game, but with LeBron around this series is far from over.