PHOENIX – – All-Star goaltender Chris Paul was grimacing in pain at the start of the fourth quarter, mostly playing with one shoulder. Cameron Payne had just been kicked out. The players had to be separated and the emotions were on fire.
Phoenix coach Monty Williams had warned his young Suns that there would be times like this in the NBA playoffs, especially against defending champion Los Angels Lakers.
It is safe to say that they passed the first test.
Devin Booker scored 34 points, Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 16 rebounds and the Suns won their first playoff game in 11 years, beating the Lakers 99-90 on Sunday. For Booker, his long-awaited playoff appearance lived up to the hype.
“The intensity is different, the physicality is different,” Booker said. “And it’s just a game.”
It was the first playoff appearance for several Suns players, including Booker, Ayton and Mikal Bridges, but they didn’t look like playoff rookies against LeBron James and the Lakers. They helped Phoenix make up for a tough game for Paul, who looked unhealthy after a right shoulder injury in the second quarter.
The Suns led 86-70 early in the fourth, but the Lakers quickly reduced it to 86-77 with 9:02 to go.
This is roughly when things got a little chaotic. Los Angeles’ Alex Caruso and Payne got into an altercation near the sideline after Payne threw Caruso to the ground. Montrezl Harrell of Los Angeles jumped into the fray and the two teams had to be separated. Caruso and Harrell each received one technical foul, and Payne received two technical points and was sent off.
“It’s something we’ve talked about as a team and as a staff,” said Williams. “There’s going to be a point in the game where you’re going to have to regulate your emotions.”
Adding Bridges: “Times are getting tough, we’re not going our separate ways. We will fight together.
The Suns did it. Booker kept shooting and Ayton was a force on the glass, finishing with eight attacking rebounds and shooting 10 of 11 from the field. The Lakers never got around in the dying minutes.
“(Booker) is a scoring machine, puts a lot of pressure on our defense to cover it in a number of ways,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “When we overtake him, he has Ayton in there. We didn’t do a good enough job, but if we keep this team at 99 points in Game 2, I feel good about our chances.
James finished with 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Anthony Davis shot just 5 of 16 from the field and had 13 points. The Lakers shot 7 of 26 (27%) at 3 points.
“I missed a ton of shots. We missed a ton of shots as a team, ”said Davis. “There is no way to win a game, let alone a series with the way I play. It’s on me.
The second game is Tuesday night in Phoenix. The Lakers have been there before – they lost Game 1 of the first two playoffs last season before rallying to win and ultimately becoming the NBA Champion.
It was an eventful first half that saw the Suns take a 53-45 lead.
Phoenix had a 32-25 lead after the first. But the festive mood in Phoenix turned to stunned silence at the start of the second quarter when Paul ran into teammate Cameron Johnson and fell to the ground in obvious pain while holding his right shoulder. He stayed on the ground for a few minutes – surrounded by players from both teams – before slowly leaving the ground with a towel over his head.
The 36-year-old star returned minutes later to a huge roar from the crowd, but looked wrong. He was mostly dribbling with his left hand and missed the only shot he took before half-time.
Booker had 17 points before the break on 8 of 14 shots and Ayton added 14.
The Lakers were scheduled to beat Golden State on Wednesday in the play-in tournament just to earn 7th place in the playoffs. But they still entered the series as the second-seeded Suns, according to FanDuel.
Paul said he “heard a crunch” when he injured his shoulder, but he’s confident he’ll be good for Game 2.
Williams said he spoke with Paul for a minute after the game over his shoulder. The coach said the playmaker assured him he would go ahead.
“He was fine and he will be fine to move forward, but he was quite sore when he came back,” said Williams. “Playing today gave us a lot of juice, a lot of energy. It was inspirational.
Vogel said his team expected to reach the 85% vaccination threshold against COVID-19 on Monday. He added that he didn’t expect much to change other than the team’s restaurant options could be expanded.
The Suns announced the capacity for Sunday’s game was 11,000, but it looked like more were in an arena that holds just over 18,000. It was the first time that more than 10,000 people were allowed in the game. recently renovated arena.
“I was like ‘Holy smokes. It’s pretty cool, ”said Williams. “I had to control myself emotionally.”
Lakers: The Lakers shot 19 free throws before the Suns shot their first. The Lakers have only completed 17 of 28 free throws. … Vogel has confirmed guard Ben McLemore was in a recent car crash but was unharmed and available to play on Sunday.
Suns: The Suns were basically healthy for the first game. Striker Abdel Nader (knee) was the only player unavailable, but he has been absent for a few months.