LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds, LeBron James added 21 points and nine assist and the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated their first home playoff game in more than eight years with a 109-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night in Game 3.
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the second half in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Dennis Schröder added 20 points and the seventh-seeded defending NBA champs took a 2-1 lead with their second straight victory in the first-round series. Los Angeles pulled away from erratic Phoenix in the second half for the second straight game, and a fierce late rally by the Suns came up short.
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Game 4 is Sunday in Los Angeles.
Deandre Ayton had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are in an early hole in their first postseason series in 11 years. Phoenix also came unglued in the final minute when Devin Booker and Jae Crowder both were sent to the locker room early.
Booker scored 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting, but the star guard was ejected with 35.4 seconds to play after committing a flagrant foul against Schröder. Moments later, Crowder got a technical foul, following Booker off the court after apparently trying to confront Schröder.
Phoenix also got another quiet game from Chris Paul, who played just 2 1/2 minutes in the fourth quarter even though coach Monty Williams said the star point guard’s shoulder had healed. Paul had seven points and six assists in 27 minutes.
Roughly 7,000 masked fans watched inside Staples Center as the Lakers hosted their first playoff game in their downtown arena since April 28, 2013. Los Angeles won its 17th title in the Florida bubble last October and the legions of fans confined to watching their beloved team’s rebirth on television turned up in force for this streak-breaking win.
Davis scored 18 points in the third quarter while staking the Lakers to a 17-point lead, and Wesley Matthews hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter while Los Angeles pushed its margin to 21.
Cameron Payne hit three 3-pointers in a late rally, but the Suns couldn’t get closer than eight points.
Phoenix won the series opener in impressive fashion, but the Lakers answered with much-improved play in a 109-102 victory in Game 2. The Suns were the NBA’s best road team during their outstanding regular season, but the Lakers are proving to be the nightmare matchup most expected when the champs slipped to the bottom of the bracket due to injuries.
Williams said before the game that Paul was “a full go” after his bruised right shoulder that clearly limited him in both games in Phoenix. The 11-time All-Star point guard still didn’t appear to be playing at his usual strengths at Staples Center, his former home with the Clippers.
Both teams got off to solid offensive starts in Game 3, but both then fumbled through a dismal second quarter featuring just 28 points on combined 9-for-39 shooting. The Lakers also got a worry when Davis came down awkwardly and appeared to be moving gingerly both before and after halftime.
But Los Angeles made a 16-6 run out of the break led by James, who increased his aggression and broke down Phoenix’s defense. The Lakers took their biggest lead of the series midway through the third quarter when Schröder’s three-point play put them up 67-51, and Davis made a series of tough buckets to keep LA’s lead at double digits even without a 3-pointer in the quarter.
Suns: F Abdel Nader (knee) remained the only player in the series unavailable due to injury. … Mikal Bridges had six points in 34 minutes.
Lakers: Starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went to the locker room in the third quarter after bruising his left quadriceps. He didn’t return. Caldwell-Pope scored five points in 26 minutes. … Andre Drummond had six points and 11 rebounds.
LONG TIME COMING
The Lakers’ eight-year, two-month gap between home playoff games was an unprecedented stretch in franchise history.
Before the six-year postseason drought that ended last season, the Lakers had only missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons once in their first 66 seasons of existence.
The Lakers’ most recent playoff game at Staples was Game 4 of a first-round sweep by San Antonio in 2013. That was the season that began with championship aspirations and ended with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash sidelined by injuries.
KING VS JAE
James had another yet lively meeting with Crowder — his former Cleveland teammate, his opponent in last year’s NBA Finals against Miami, and the Lakers fans’ least-favorite Phoenix player, as evidenced by numerous derogatory chants of his name.
James got a standing ovation when he drew an offensive foul on Crowder with seven minutes to play.
Crowder also struggled from the field, to Staples Center’s delight: He missed his first seven shots, including six 3-pointers, before finally hitting a jumper with 6:43 left.
Torrey Craig and Frank Kaminsky effectively bumped Dario Saric from the Suns’ rotation for Game 3. Saric, who scored six points in 26 minutes and occasionally got roasted on defense by James in the first two games, didn’t play.
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