Cameron Payne Ejected from Lakers vs. Suns After Altercation with Caruso, Harrell

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVMay 23, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) drives past Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson, left, guard Cameron Payne, second from right, and center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 1 of their NBA basketball first-round playoff series Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

It was just Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, but emotions were already running high.

There was a scuffle in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game after LeBron James missed a free throw and then drew a foul from Chris Paul while going for the rebound. Things got heated between Cameron Payne, Alex Caruso and Montrezl Harrell in the immediate aftermath, and players had to be separated.

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Lakers-Suns getting chippy pic.twitter.com/ttU2n74I5q

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Players had to be separated after a CP3 loose ball foul on LeBron. pic.twitter.com/KpFxOPco6r

Mark Medina of USA Today noted Payne was ejected for shoving Caruso and then throwing the ball at the Lakers guard.

While the Suns had the lead when the altercation happened and held on for the 99-90 victory, the loss of Payne was particularly notable because Paul was dealing with a shoulder injury for much of the game.

The future Hall of Famer went to the locker room during the first half and seemed to be struggling to control the ball and unleash shots when he did eventually return. While his return was a welcome sign for the Suns, Payne is the primary backup to Paul and will surely be counted on this series if the starter is less than 100 percent.

Payne had five points, three rebounds and one assist on 2-of-8 shooting from the field prior to the ejection.

The Murray State product averaged 8.4 points, 3.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game during the regular season and was often used as a spark of energy off the bench who can hit from the outside (44.0 percent from three-point range) and blow past defenders in transition.

Any suspension would be a significant loss for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

In terms of the big picture of the series, this likely raises the tension even more heading into future games.

The Lakers are the defending champions with James and Anthony Davis, but the Suns have home-court advantage and aren't going to simply back down to the Purple and Gold if Sunday's incident and result were any indication.