Roundtable: What we learned from the Suns’ series win over the Lakers
The Phoenix Suns dropped the Los Angeles Lakers in six games to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals hours after the Denver Nuggets did the same to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.
Now, the No. 2 seed Suns face the No. 3 seed Nuggets starting Monday at 7 p.m. at Phoenix Suns Arena.
The series went in favor of Denver, 2-1, during the regular season. Phoenix won a Jan. 1 game by three points and fell in a Jan. 22-23 back-to-back of games that went into overtime and double-overtime, respectively.
But before we get into the Nuggets, let’s take a look back at the win over the defending champion Lakers. We asked our Arizona Sports hosts and editors one open-ended question.
What did you learn about Phoenix during its first-round defeat of the Lakers?
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: That experience does not matter as much as the NBA experts claimed it would. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and even Cam Johnson played with no fear and never let their lack of playoff experience dictate the outcome of the games.
It was such a tired, old and completely overrated talking point. Yes, experience can be a factor but not always. And even when it is, it’s just one of many factors in determining who wins and loses a series.
Against the Lakers, the experience — or lack of — made no difference. All of the young players stepped up time and time again and proved that the moment wasn’t too big for them.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I learned that Devin Booker, whom we all suspected was made for moments like this, was in fact made for moments like this. In a 2-2 series, it wasn’t the greatest player of this generation who took control. It was Book; an unstoppable, unguardable force of nature in Games 5 and 6.
I learned that no superstar can do it alone. LeBron proved it. So did Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and of course Chris Paul — all of whom came up with huge plays in the fourth quarter of Game 6 to keep this thing from sliding out of view. I learned that Deandre Ayton has grown up and now gets to flex against an MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic. I learned that I don’t ever want the Lakers’ doctors to examine me for anything.
What else did I learn about Phoenix? That its fans are like a hibernating bear. And after a long deep sleep, it’s wake-up time.
Jon Bloom, Phoenix Suns radio play-by-play broadcaster: I learned that Devin Booker is who we thought he is and the Suns are who we thought they were.
I also learned that I could take calls on the air from Suns fans for several hours without getting tired and that the Dallas Mavericks are the only team left in the playoffs that has won a title in the last 37 years. Lastly, I learned that I can’t wait for more.
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski: I’d say the biggest thing I learned about this group is they don’t like being laughed at. Game 3 was a tough pill to swallow — not only because it looked like the Lakers could score at will inside with Anthony Davis whenever they wanted, but because the LA bench was openly mocking the Suns as the second half was still playing out.
To be fair, the Lakers had every right to celebrate. They certainly looked like they were in control at that point but, the thing is, these series are actually best-of-seven — not best-of-three. And when you show up another team like that, you better have the series locked up. The Suns didn’t appear to like it very much, because they proceeded to win every game after that.
This is pretty clearly a resilient team. They didn’t waver when their leader went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter of Game 1, and they didn’t fall apart when LA was up by double-digits in the first half of Game 4 with a chance to bury them.
They’re also not easily intimidated. Those were the defending champs that the Suns just eliminated and, say what you will about LeBron, but he almost always finds his way into the NBA Finals. And he literally never loses in the first round. Well, until now.
On top of all that, Phoenix can win games a lot of different ways. And that’s the sign of a team that can make a deep run. They can win with defense, they can get hot from three-point range, they can get a big performance from Deandre Ayton… or Devin Booker can just completely take over. They have options.
Of course, we already knew some of this stuff from the regular season. But it’s nice to see it reinforced on the game’s biggest stage.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: I learned that the Suns’ regular season translated. From the ugly, grinding games that ended with victories, to the recoveries from a setback of being down 2-1, Phoenix looked like its relentless self in six postseason games.
The defense showed up, the role players picked things up when stars like Devin Booker and Chris Paul were either hurt or hampered by the opponent’s defense, and ultimately, even the NBA’s best regular season defense couldn’t keep Booker at bay.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: I learned that all those games the Suns battled in through April that felt like playoff games did in fact very much help them prepare for the real deal. Chris Paul himself was the first one to say that there’s nothing like the playoffs until you get there, which couldn’t help but bring some skepticism about the Suns’ inexperience.
But they clearly picked up enough things to be ready for this and that gauntlet of a schedule in that month turned out to be invaluable.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I learned that a well-constructed team with solid chemistry can topple giants. I learned that Devin Booker is a superstar. And to a degree, I learned that treating the NBA regular season with respect can be rewarded. The Suns took pride in competing in the regular season, rarely sitting players, which has become so commonplace in the league. That paid off big time in this series win over the Lakers.
Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: I learned, when called upon, Deandre Ayton can rise to the occasion on the biggest stage he’s seen in his career. Four first-round double doubles that included three 20-point games against a tough Lakers defense is an impressive feat to accomplish. I also learned just how valuable Chris Paul, 100% or not, is to the team’s postseason hopes. I had an idea, but it was evident in Round 1. And lastly, I learned to never challenge Jae Crowder to a salsa dancing competition. It takes some smooth moves to get tossed in a playoff game!
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: In an era where we complain about player movement, dream teams set up by legal player tampering and players signing max contracts just to force their way out, Devin Booker became legendary yesterday.
No matter what examples around the game were set by others, Booker was never affected. Booker doesn’t complain publicly. He doesn’t have minions texting talk show hosts to let them know that he wants out or wants changes made in management, coaching or personnel. Booker just works. Think about this: Monty Williams is the first coach that’s ever started a season with Booker and was still his head coach two years later. Booker has a lot he could be bitter about but it never shows.
Everybody likes Booker’s game but he’s so much deeper than his game. What has always stayed with me was the night Al McCoy was inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor. As much as we love Al, most players could care less about a play-by-play guy. Booker came out of the locker room to watch the proceedings. He wanted to feel what it meant to be a Sun. He saw how many members of the Ring of Honor came back to be a part of the evening. He saw how, normally, crowds of under 10,000 people came out every night and, because of history and love of team, there was suddenly a regular season sell-out crowd for that night. It almost cemented Booker as a Sun in his mind, even before that was cemented in ours.
This series victory is the definition of Monty’s most famous phrase, “Everything you want is on the other side of hard,” when you look at the series through the prism of Booker’s career. Within the confines of the sports world, everything has been hard for Booker. Bob Petit scored 50 points to knock off the defending World Champion Celtics in 1958. He is the only man in NBA history to score more points than Devin Booker in a game to eliminate the World Champion. Booker passed Kevin Durant and the late Kobe Bryant, who were previously in second and third on that list.
That’s a legendary list and so is D-Book.