Anthony Davis #3 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers block out Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of Game One of the Western Conference first-round playoff series at Phoenix Suns Arena on May 23, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Lakers 99-90. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Sunday’s 99-90 Game 1 win for the Phoenix Suns over the Los Angeles Lakers was eventful and brought along even more discussion points for Game 2.
Devin Booker was stupendous. Chris Paul got hurt. Anthony Davis and LeBron James had bad outings.
Here are a few things to watch for on Tuesday.
Lakers’ adjustments on Devin Booker
Booker was outstanding in Game 1. The Lakers’ effort in stopping him was not. Both of those things can be true.
How the Lakers ratchet up the scheme to contain Booker will be at the top of the list of tweaks from Game 1 to 2. In a quick summation, they tried a few different things and they didn’t work.
Booker’s feel to read defenses at this stage of his career is terrific, to the point where he can make this awesome swing pass to the weak-side corner in his sleep.
Booker scored 34 points, but where the Lakers lost the game was their inability to corral him to limit his playmaking.
There are two lanes the Lakers cannot give Booker: a dribbling lane and a passing lane.
This is a prime example.
Is this high-level skill? Absolutely. Can the Lakers do more to bottle it? Without a doubt. His freedom to get to Anthony Davis, past him and then still having Cam Johnson to pass to is what the Lakers need to fix.
As our own Kevin Zimmerman detailed, this also allowed Deandre Ayton to be prominently involved in the offense.
The basic ball rotations were too easy as well, which can go back to the previous clip and James getting too far off Johnson.
Davis ball-watching too?
Booker is not Stephen Curry and his team is not the Golden State Warriors. He can easily break down the “pass the ball to someone else now” double-team because he has capable teammates who also know how to move off the ball.
The Lakers should have far more respect for Booker as a passer after Game 1.
Chris Paul’s shoulder
Paul’s injury is being reported as a stinger by AZCentral’s Kent Somers.
As anyone watching could see, Paul was very limited in using his right arm. Paul was only dribbling with his right hand when he had to, on top of having to alter his shooting motion and making it look like an immense effort to get a pass off.
Watching Chris freaking Paul lose his handle and make passes like this was rough.
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) May 24, 2021
The Ringer’s Rob Mahoney excellently outlined how the Lakers oddly didn’t adjust to this and look to capitalize off it.
Paul couldn’t really shoot or go right all that well and said as much about his jumper after the game.
“Once I seen what it was or what I couldn’t do, (assistant coach) Willie Green came up to me and said, ‘All [it] took away was your shooting,’” Paul said Sunday.
Surely the Lakers in Game 2 will show more intent in playing off Paul if he still struggles shooting the ball.
The Suns should be thankful Booker played one of the best games of his career because Paul was not in a position to pick up the slack if it was required.
The big question for Game 2 is how Phoenix can respond if there’s a combination of Booker’s effectiveness decreasing and Paul’s being limited because of the injury.
All indications from him are he’s ready to go and Paul is not even listed on Game 2’s injury report. Needless to say, it radically changes the series if he’s fully capable or not.
LeBron James bouncing back
James attempted 13 shots on Sunday. He has taken 13 or less in only 6.8% of his 261 career playoff games, per Basketball-Reference.
He is not 100% on that right ankle. To back that up before what the film said, here’s Lakers head coach Frank Vogel on Monday.
“I approach the game like he’s a healthy player (while) just understanding that there’s gonna be a handful of plays where it limits him,” Vogel said.
A signature James play is his turbo-charged rim attacks in transition or semi-transition. He will get the ball, look up and turn on his boosters if he likes what he sees.
Usually, that’s just his defender in front of him with no backline support. But there were a few of those moments in Game 1 and the afterburners were nowhere to be found.
That pressure is part of James’ greatness and it was missing on Sunday.
As covered in a preview of this series, a limited James means that the Suns’ Mikal Bridges can really hang in that matchup, and he did.
James’ 40-pound edge didn’t seem to overwhelm Bridges.
Ayton swallowed up one runner that James was barely able to elevate on.
Much has been made of how common a Game 1 loss is for James, and that can be lined up with the general meh play of the Lakers, but it can’t with how James looked physically. How far he can push himself on Tuesday will be telling.
James should look to be in complete control of Game 2. The Suns are not a 7th or 8th seed Los Angeles can afford to drop games to. On Sunday Phoenix proved every bit of why it is the No. 2 seed that can easily win this series.