PHOENIX - 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.
Phoenix will meet the Denver Nuggets in the second round. Game 1 is Monday in Phoenix.
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.
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.
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.
Suns: Crowder and Torrey Craig got technical fouls during a sequence that included a flagrant foul on Caldwell-Pope. Crowder was then ejected with 30.6 seconds left for a second T, and he sprinted to the locker room. Booker also got a final-minute technical.
Lakers: They didn’t face an elimination game during their title run last year. ... Schröder gave a much-improved effort after going scoreless in Game 5. The German guard is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Sensing a Theme Here
The Lakers are the third conference finalist from the 2020 postseason to be eliminated in the first round this year, joining Miami and Boston. All four finalists endured significant injury problems this season after a radically truncated offseason, but the Nuggets held off Portland in six games earlier Thursday to advance despite losing Jamal Murray to a knee injury in April.
The NBA’s best road team in the regular season won two straight at Staples Center, taking Game 4 after Davis went down at halftime with a groin injury.
Phoenix has won five consecutive closeout games in best-of-seven playoff series — although the Suns hadn’t closed out anybody since San Antonio in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals before Kobe Bryant and the Lakers beat them in the conference finals.
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