Why The Lakers Lost to the Suns
What happened to the Lakers in the NBA this season wasn’t the Hollywood ending that many expected. The Suns melted their hope of repeating as champs. But LeBron James (LBJ) and the Lakers have nothing to be ashamed of because if you understand basketball and you’re not a LEBRON HATER, you know why they’re not supposed to get past the first round after what happened in Game 3 of the series. It was a game they won, but ironically, it was when they lost the series. It was a battle they won but it made them lost the war.
Does Booker and the Suns beating LeBron and the Lakers mean that they are the better team? I am of the opinion that it does not. Of course you would say that this is just the LeBron diehard in me expressing a sentiment.
Skip Bayless and his disciples – the legion of LeBron haters – were quick to crucify the leader of the Lakers for that early playoff exit. They will most certainly be calling him again “the washed king,” a label they grudgingly swallowed like a bitter pill when in 2020 he led the Purple and Gold to their 17th NBA title.
Why did the Lakers lose to the Suns?
Go back to Game 3 of the series. If you are indeed a fan of basketball and not just waiting for LeBron to fail, you would have noticed three significant takeaways in that game.
Firstly, it revealed the formula in beating the Suns – inside the paint. Knowing how atrocious is their team’s outside shooting this season, particularly from beyond the arc, Vogel and his coaching staff figured that they have to use their advantage in size. The Lakers outshone the Suns in the paint 58-38 with Anthony Davis (AD) and LBJ leading the charge. Check the statistics of that game and you’ll see also that Chris Paul and company were outrebounded 51 – 35. Now, remove AD from the equation. What would happen to that advantage in inside scoring and rebounding?
In games 1 to 3, AD had this points-rebounds-assists-blocks stat line – 27-9-4-2.
That brings us to the second takeaway from Game 3 – AD’s injury. That happened when he tried to block from behind Booker’s lay-up late in the 2nd quarter. While he may have finished the game, those who understand the nature of injuries in basketball, knew that AD will feel the effects of that injury after the game. True enough, in Game 4, he was not himself, did not play in Game 5, and logged in only 5 minutes in Game 6. That means that the Lakers’ season was pretty much over after Game 3. Why? Where would his team get the 27 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game that AD contributed during the first 3 games?
That question leads us to the third takeaway – Dennis Schorder’s performance. In Game 3 which the Lakers won, he scored 20 points. He was supposed to be the third most reliable scorer and backup playmaker. The reason the Lakers acquired him, sacrificing Danny Green and a future draft pick in the process, is to take some pressure off LBJ and AD. But he was surprisingly inconsistent in his performance throughout the series. In the 2 games that the Lakers won, he averaged 22 points per game. In their 4 losses, he scored 10.5 per game. He did not score a single point in the pivotal game 5 where they scored only 85 against the Sun’s 115. And it was that game that AD did not play.
What exacerbated matters for the Lakers was the fact that it wasn’t AD only who got injured in Game 3. Cadwell Pope got hurt as well. In case you haven’t noticed, he was the most reliable defender against Booker. In Pope’s absence and his ability to defend compromised when he returned, Booker averaged 31.33 points in Games 4, 5, & 6.
Generally, those injuries to AD and Pope in Game 3 very much encapsulated Lakers’ injury-plagued season. Don’t forget that LBJ himself was out for a long time because of ankle injury and it was not only in Game 3 of their playoff series against the Suns that AD was injured, not to mention the games that Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol missed because of COVID-19 protocols. Just imagine how those injuries and missed games by the said players affected the building of team chemistry. Thus, even if they would have eclipsed the Suns in the first round, which they had high probability of accomplishing had Davis not suffered that injury, getting deeper into the playoffs and possibly the championship is almost a losing proposition.
And by the way, LeBron, at 36 and probably not playing at 100% because of the injury he had, was still the Lakers’ best performer with averages of 23.33, 7.16, and 8 (points-rebounds-assists).