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The brief reign of the Los Angeles Lakers is over.
The Phoenix Suns eliminated the Lakers from the NBA playoffs on Thursday night with a 113-100 win in Game 6 of their first round series, ending LeBron James’ hopes of leading the Lakers to consecutive championships.
It’s the first time James, 36, has left the playoffs in the first round – and it was a young, up-and-coming team that accelerated his exit.
The runner-up Suns, who made their first postseason appearance since 2010, relied on the inside-outside combo of Devin Booker, 24, and Deandre Ayton, 22, throughout the series.
“I just know they wanted to be in games like this,” said Monty Williams, the Suns coach, ahead of Thursday’s game. “And I think you didn’t run away from the moment, run away from situations.”
Both players, Williams said, got a taste of the spotlight last season when the Suns won eight straight games in the league bubble – a run that Phoenix missed out on post-season qualification but made the team’s young core eager to to achieve more.
In the semifinals of the conference, the Suns will now face the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.
The Lakers, handicapped by injuries during the regular season, appeared untied against the Suns after Anthony Davis, their all-star power striker, strained his groin before Game 4 halftime. The Suns won that game and then defeated the Lakers in Game 5 on Tuesday to take the swing.
Frank Vogel, the Lakers coach, said ahead of Thursday’s game that Davis was “very happy” to play. Davis tried it: he was in the starting XI but walked cautiously from the front and seemed to worsen his injury when he tried to block one of Booker’s layups early in the first quarter. Davis went straight to the bench and never returned to the game.
The suns, meanwhile, were volcanic, shooting 10 of 13 from beyond the 3-point line in the first quarter on the way to a 22-point lead towards the second. Booker finished with 47 points, shooting 8 out of 10 from 3-point range.
James has seen ups and downs since joining the Lakers before the start of the 2018/19 season. His first season with the team broke up when he injured his groin on Christmas Day and the Lakers missed the playoffs. He had a resurgence last season by joining Davis to lead the Lakers to their 17th championship. For James, the run was a crowning success: his first title with the Lakers and his fourth overall victory with three teams.
As expected, the Lakers started this season with big goals, but they struggled. After a strong start that appeared to position him as a candidate for his fifth NBA Most Valuable Player Award (and first since 2013), James missed a total of 26 games after sprained his ankle in March. And Davis, who was hindered by injuries during his career, was sidelined for about two months because of a strained calf.
The result was that the Lakers, who were among the favorites in the preseason for another title, were rarely whole and hobbled into the playoffs as number 7 in the west.
Still, the Lakers weren’t an ideal first-round match for the Suns – and the task got even more difficult for Phoenix when Chris Paul, the team’s starting point guard and veteran leader, injured his right shoulder in the series’ first game. Paul played through the pain, however, and was great at Phoenix’s game 4 win, a turning point for an emerging franchise.