Without Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers got smoked in Game 5 at Phoenix Suns Arena. Instead of a vintage LeBron James performance, the defending champions were cripplingly short-handed and ice-cold on Tuesday, falling 115-85.
Technically, Davis was a late scratch, although three days of reporting indicated that the eight-time All-Star — nursing a Grade-1 groin strain that he suffered in the second quarter on Sunday — wouldn’t be able to go in the all-important Game 5. (Afterward, Dennis Schroder implied that the Lakers knew of Davis’ fate ahead of time, though AD spent two sessions on the court testing his groin in the lead-up to the game).
It didn’t take long for the Lakers to look collectively dejected by AD’s absence — the latest in a discouraging season of untimely absences. After a relatively energized start, an 11-0 first-quarter run put Phoenix ahead, and the Suns never looked back.
Phoenix built a 30-point lead by halftime, and Los Angeles had no fight in response.
In post-game remarks, James, Schroder, and Lakers head coach Frank Vogel noted that the Suns simply took care of business at home, regardless of the margin of victory.
“They kicked our ass, but at the end of the day, it’s one game,” LeBron said. “They did what they’re supposed to do. They held serve at home.”
Fair enough. But better shooting (a low bar) and a more prideful two-way effort may not be enough to force a Game 7.
After all: the Lakers have to presume Davis won’t be available for the elimination game on Thursday — which will mark the first time LeBron has been down 3-2 in a first-round series in his career. That’s how LeBron is viewing it, at least.
“My mindset is that he’s not going to be able to play in Game 6,” James said about Davis in his postgame Zoom with reporters. “If something changes, then we’ll go from there. But I’m preparing as if he’s not.”
LeBron finished with 24 points, 9-of-19 FG, seven assists, and five rebounds. He was the only Lakers starter to sniff double-figures.
As this series has reminded us: the tables of life (and basketball) can always turn quicker than you think. Fortunately, for the Lakers, they still have the all-time NBA leader in points per game in elimination games, albeit on a bum ankle.
“It’s literally win-or-go-home at that point,” James said about his career success with his back against the wall. “You shoot all the bullets you got, and throw the gun, too … I look forward to the moment.”