Chris Paul, Suns Defeat Lakers in 1st Game After LeBron James' Injury

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMarch 22, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) drives past Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton each scored 26 points and Chris Paul added a triple-double to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 111-94 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Sunday.

Paul's triple-double consisted of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, including one that ended up being the 10,000th of his career:

Phoenix Suns @Suns

✔️ 10K career assist ✔️ DOMINAYTON @CP3 ↪️ @DeandreAyton https://t.co/4u9nU8q5vY

The Suns led 59-44 at halftime and held a seven-point edge or more for the entire second half.

Montrezl Harrell's 23 points and 10 rebounds off the bench led the Lakers, who played their first game without LeBron James since the four-time NBA MVP suffered a high ankle sprain Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks. James is out indefinitely, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Dennis Schroder added 22 points for L.A., which fell to 28-15 following its second straight defeat. The Lakers are now third in the Western Conference.

The 28-13 Suns are second in the West and two games behind the league-leading Utah Jazz.


Notable Performances

Suns SG Devin Booker: 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists

Suns C Deandre Ayton: 26 points, 8 rebounds

Suns PG Chris Paul: 11 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, 3 steals

Lakers C Montrezl Harrell: 23 points, 10 rebounds

Lakers G Dennis Schroder: 22 points

Lakers G Talen Horton-Tucker: 17 points, 6 rebounds


Suns Dominate 1st Half and Never Look Back

By the time the first half ended, Booker and Ayton combined for 26 points, Paul had seven assists and Phoenix held a comfortable 15-point lead that was never seriously threatened.

The Suns took care of business in the first two quarters, dropping 31 in the first and holding L.A. to just 18 points in the second.

They did pretty much whatever they wanted on the offensive end and executed well, with this Mikal Bridges jumper getting things going early:

Phoenix Suns @Suns

Make ya head spin 🌪 https://t.co/xiLnpk0OEO

Cameron Payne later found Ayton for an easy alley-oop:

Phoenix Suns @Suns

We’ll take this all day pls 😤 https://t.co/24M4xqkUDE

Paul was masterful in transition, finding Bridges for a layup after threading a pass to him in the post:

Phoenix Suns @Suns

Make way, Mikal incoming @ConnsHomePlus | #MakeItHappen https://t.co/BwSxzO4s8V

And Booker was a walking bucket, scoring six early points en route to his 14 by halftime on 6-of-12 shooting.

Phoenix hasn't made the playoffs since 2010, but that's going to change this year. The question is how far this team can go in the postseason. If the Suns have more nights like these in the spring, then this is a championship-level squad.

Phoenix is well-coached on the sideline by Coach of the Year candidate Monty Williams and has the league's best floor general in Paul. Booker is pouring in points, and Ayton has been sensational.

The rest of the rotation has excelled as well, leading to the Suns holding the third-best net rating in the league entering Sunday, per Basketball Reference. We'll see how the Suns ultimately do, but right now, they are a very dangerous team that could threaten to have the league's best record before the regular season ends.


Lakers (Naturally) Struggle Scoring Without James, Davis

Harrell and Schroder combined to score 45 points on 18-of-27 shooting for the Lakers. The problem was that the duo accounted for nearly half of the Lakers' 94 points and more than half of the Lakers' made field goals, as the rest of the team went just 17-of-58 (29.3 percent). All shooters not named Schroder went 3-of-21 from the three-point line as well.

The Suns entered Sunday eighth in the NBA in offensive rating and 12th in points per game. Chances are they were going to be fine offensively against a Lakers team missing its two best defenders in James and Davis, and that was the case with Booker and Ayton combining for 52 points and Paul posting a triple-double.

That put the onus on the Lakers offense to keep pace, and it simply doesn't have the firepower right now to do so.

It also didn't help that the Lakers were forced to regroup so quickly after losing James the night before against the Hawks. They had to hit the road, create a James-less game plan and then play the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference.

The poor shooting ultimately proved to be the difference in this one. The Suns had the benefit of an extra day of rest and have been in Phoenix for 10 days thanks to a five-game homestand, so the edge was clearly with Phoenix.

Ultimately, losing by 17 is never a good feeling for any NBA team, but this was simply a situation where the Lakers faced an incredible challenge on short notice and fell short after a cold shooting night left no margin for error otherwise.


What's Next?

Both teams play road games Tuesday.

The Suns will visit the Miami Heat at 8 p.m. ET in AmericanAirlines Arena, and the Lakers will face the New Orleans Pelicans at 7:30 p.m. ET in Smoothie King Center.