EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker, Bradley Beal lead focused Suns to big win vs. Lakers

Jan 11, 2024, 10:33 PM | Updated: 10:36 pm

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns saves a ball from going out of bounds in front of Cam Reddish #...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns saves a ball from going out of bounds in front of Cam Reddish #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Crypto.com Arena on January 11, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Responses from the Phoenix Suns to start a game have been few and far between this season, a surprising bit considering some of the losses they’ve suffered.

But for whatever reason, after two straight bad ones, they came into Thursday’s matchup on national television against the Los Angeles Lakers looking the part of a team wanting to prove it is not that type of squad, beating them 127-109.

The effort, execution and focus was all there. Phoenix’s main contributors have all been around long enough to know what it takes in those departments, so it can come out of nowhere sometimes, like Thursday.

Phoenix’s (20-18) offense was aggressive in schematically targeting Los Angeles’ weak links. LeBron James, still a great defender at his age when fully engaged, is known in recent years to relax off the ball. He was marking Grayson Allen, so all of the Suns’ first few plays put the shooter on the move to challenge James to stay connected. Austin Reaves is a constant target and Phoenix found him against a member of the Big 3 a whole lot.

The Lakers’ (19-20) offense meanwhile, was as tragic as it was lifeless. Phoenix used good energy on that end to fuel its offensive pace and lead by as many as 17.

Devin Booker fronted that charge as a scorer, putting up 17 of his 31 points. It was just the fourth time this season that Booker reached double digits in the first quarter, something that is a signature of his game and he did 49 times the previous two years. He really got going and picked on Lakers second-year player Max Christie, the latest in a trend over Booker’s career of playing through a bravado of “seriously, this guy?” whenever an opponent puts a scrappy, young defender on him who is trying to prove himself.

Los Angeles rallied back to get within six during the minutes without Booker to start the second quarter, minutes that have been especially spotty lately, before the advantage was raised to 14. Booker checked back in and kept it around that range the rest of the half, a follow-up punch by the Suns to L.A. after the Lakers responded to the first one, inspiring the question of if they had another in them given the questionable vibes they also have at the moment.

The Suns to open the second half saw the Lakers try a few adjustments on defense, including an overload in Booker’s direction and putting top perimeter defender Jarred Vanderbilt in his way. Their response was using that to further enable a two-man game between Durant and Bradley Beal, with Beal’s use as a screener being one of the many underrated parts of his game Phoenix should implement more often. It worked well and is essentially why Phoenix made the two trades.

On top of the Lakers having nothing left to fight back with, the surge through that offensive look quickly got Phoenix up 25 a little over six minutes into the second half and it kept expanding.

Beal was the one to find a rhythm in that third quarter with 20 of his 37 points. This was his second outstanding outing within the last week, an indicator he is back to his form as one of the best two-guards in our solar system.

Phoenix’s historically poor fourth quarter play this year reared its head briefly when a 10-0 Lakers run in the front half of the period while James and Anthony Davis were off the floor got L.A. within 19. Beal, however, knocked down his seventh and eighth 3-pointers of the evening to quell any concern and trigger garbage time.

Suns head coach Frank Vogel tightened up his rotation, essentially rolling with eight guys. Eric Gordon in the guard rotation and Bol Bol in the frontcourt rotation made up most of the time, while Josh Okogie was on the wing. Udoka Azubuike was the backup center but Vogel has been playing him in small pockets and utilized Bol as the 5 at times when both centers sat. This meant no Chimezie Metu, who has been playing well but is going to be the odd man out with a Big 3 on full minutes.

Durant produced 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals, a block and no turnovers in 32 minutes on 7-for-12 shooting. Booker added three steals, and with Beal’s two, it was nine combined for the large trio. That number does a good job encapsulating their high level of intent on both ends of the floor.

Phoenix was able to still have a terrific offensive night despite a combined 2-for-15 effort from 3 for Allen (1-of-6) and Gordon (1-for-9).

James was 3-of-11 for 10 points and Davis scored 13.

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