It may have taken 15 playoff appearances over 18 NBA seasons, but LeBron James has finally suffered a first-round postseason defeat.
Beset by injuries, the defending-champion Lakers were overwhelmed by Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, dropping Game 6, 113-100, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. James & Co. threatened to engineer a valiant second-half comeback, but Booker proved to be too much, dropping 47 points while draining 8 of 10 3-point attempts.
With the season-ending loss, the Lakers became only the fifth reigning title holder in NBA history to be eliminated on their home court in the first round.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Suns veteran Jae Crowder taunted James at the end of the fourth quarter by doing a brief salsa dance – a reference to a popular commercial featuring the four-time NBA MVP. Crowder was immediately ejected, but the game was already in hand, and he jogged off the court and into the locker room.
LeBron James reacts during the second quarter of the Lakers’ season-ending loss on Thursday
Phoenix’s Devin Booker (right) hit his first six three-pointers and finished with 47 points. Suns veteran Jae Crowder taunted James at the end of the fourth quarter by doing a brief salsa dance (left) – a reference to a popular commercial featuring the four-time NBA MVP. Crowder was immediately ejected, but the game was already in hand, and he jogged off the court and into the locker room
James overcame an ankle problem to finish with 29 points in a losing effort for the Lakers
Marc Gasol #14 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers argue a Gasol foul in the third quarter during against the Phoenix Suns game six of the Western Conference playoff series
For the Lakers, the fall from atop the NBA’s hierarchy was fast.
Back in October, James and his Lakers teammates were celebrating the franchise’s 17th NBA title with a Finals victory over the Miami Heat inside the league bubble in Orlando.
But the realities of pro sports in the pandemic dictated that the 2020-21 season start in late December, and the quick turnaround may have contributed to the Lakers’ injury problems that continued into the postseason.
James entered Thursday’s Game 6 with a bad ankle, and running mate Anthony Davis was returning from a groin injury after missing 30 regular season games with calf and heel issues.
On Thursday, Davis logged only five minutes before aggravating the groin injury. He returned to the locker room soon after before re-emerging with a freshly wrapped leg.
And that was only the beginning of the Lakers’ first-quarter problems.
Not only did Booker make his first six three-point attempts, but teammate Jae Crowder started 3 for 4 from deep as Phoenix jumped pout to a 36-14 lead that proved insurmountable for LA.
The Suns will meet the Denver Nuggets in the second round. Game 1 is Monday in Phoenix.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3), forward LeBron James (23) and coach Frank Vogel react in the second half
Booker scored 22 of his 47 points in a phenomenal first quarter, and the Phoenix Suns won their first playoff series since 2010, eliminating the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers with a 113-100 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Jae Crowder scored 18 points for the second-seeded Suns, who won three consecutive games to send LeBron James to a first-round series loss for the first time in his 18-year NBA career.
Chris Paul had eight points and 12 assists for the Suns, who jumped to a huge early advantage in the opening minutes of Game 6 while Anthony Davis struggled and eventually left due to his groin injury.
LeBron James reacts in the second quarter
Although the Suns lost much of their early 29-point lead, they patiently held off the Lakers and James, who had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Booker and Paul stayed strong in the fourth quarter, and Phoenix ended a decade of hoops frustration in the Valley of the Sun with the clinching victory of Booker’s first career playoff series.
Davis returned to the Lakers’ starting lineup after missing the second half of Game 4 and all of Game 5, but the eight-time All-Star played less than 5 1/2 minutes before being sidelined again by his groin injury.
Booker and the Suns surged to a 29-point lead in the first half, but the Lakers trimmed it to 10 midway through the fourth quarter. Paul, Mikal Bridges and Crowder all hit big shots down the stretch to make sure the lead never went to single digits.
Dennis Schröder scored 20 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 19 for the Lakers, who won’t get to properly celebrate a title in front of their wild home fans this summer after last October’s sterile victory in the Florida bubble. The Lakers were 21-6 before they lost Davis and then James to long-term injuries starting on Valentine’s Day, and the champs never regained their best form.
Even with a healthy Davis, the Lakers would have hard-pressed to keep up on Booker’s latest evening of brilliance.
Booker hit all six of his 3-point attempts and went 8 for 9 overall while the Suns took a 36-14 lead after one quarter. The six-year veteran showed none of the shakiness from earlier in the series against the Lakers, shredding the NBA’s best defensive team with his silky-smooth jumper and heady penetration.
Suns shooting guard Devin Booker scored 22 of his 47 points in a remarkable first-quarter
While Paul played through a persistent shoulder problem, injuries were insurmountable for Los Angeles, which had a 2-1 series lead on Phoenix when Davis injured his groin midway through Game 4 and subsequently missed Game 5.
Caldwell-Pope played well after missing most of the past two games with a bruised knee, but the Lakers also lost backup guard Alex Caruso to a left ankle injury midway through Game 6.
James had been 14-0 in first-round series during his career, which includes four championships. Only Lakers greats Derek Fisher and Robert Horry ever had more first-round perfection in NBA history, with both going 16-0.
With the resurgence of the injury problems that forced the Lakers down to the seventh seed in the West, they couldn’t recover against the Suns and Booker, who rose to lead Phoenix to its decisive wins.
Booker, who scored 30 points in Game 5, got help in the first quarter of Game 6 from three of Crowder’s six 3-pointers. Phoenix took a 21-point lead to halftime, but the Lakers trimmed it to only 13 heading to the fourth quarter with big efforts from James, Schröder and Wesley Matthews, who combined for 27 points.
James battles for the ball with Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig (12) and forward Mikal Bridges (25) in the first half