The Los Angeles Lakers were facing an uphill battle entering Game 5 as they would be without the services of All-Star big man Anthony Davis. Unfortunately for L.A., they also ran into a buzzsaw in the form of the Phoenix Suns as the home team blitzed the defending champions in the first half and never looked back on their way to a 115-85 win.
Devin Booker was superb for Phoenix as he led all scorers with 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting from the field to go along with seven rebounds and five assists. LeBron James did all he could to give Los Angeles a chance to compete, he finished the loss with 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of action, but it wasn’t enough in the end as the Suns cruised to victory.
With the win, Phoenix takes a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series with Game 6 scheduled for Thursday night at 10:30 p.m. ET with TNT handling the broadcast. Here are the three most important takeaways from Game 5
1. Are we moving into a different phase of LeBron’s career?
LeBron James, the 250-pound freight train that, only a year ago, was as unstoppable near the basket as anyone in history, did not attempt a free throw in Game 5. He scored 24 points… but 18 of them came from behind the arc. Though he scored six points in the paint, two came on a turnaround jumper and two more came on a wide open layup. Not once did he barrel towards the basket and overpower Phoenix’s mortal defenders.
There are a number of reasons why that might be the case. The Suns could pack the paint with multiple defenders thanks to the Lakers’ poor spacing. Without Anthony Davis, the Suns were keyed in him completely. He’s still recovering from a high-ankle sprain that probably won’t get back to 100 percent at any point this postseason.
But how many minor injuries has James played through in his career? How many times have his teammates failed him? He nearly won a championship without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. He came one J.R. Smith miscue away from toppling the greatest team in NBA history singlehandedly. He isn’t supposed to need excuses. When his team needed him to win a game by himself, for most of the past 15 years, he was able to find a way to do it.
But Father Time is undefeated, and now, it’s worth asking if James is simply beyond the point in his career in which he can be expected to overcome every single obstacle. Maybe he’s just a normal superstar now, not a superstar capable of overcoming injuries and poor spacing and missing teammates. Maybe, for the first time in his career, James just isn’t quite that unstoppable force he’s used to being, and if the Lakers plan to win more championships with him, they need to adjust accordingly. The Lakers played like a team expecting LeBron to score 50 tonight. When he didn’t, they had no alternatives. Now, both sides have to acknowledge what might be their new reality.
2. Is Chris Paul okay? Does he need to be?
With the Suns leading by 33 in the third quarter, Chris Paul was fouled by Wesley Matthews and seemingly reinjured his shoulder. He stayed in the game only long enough to take the free throws. The Suns intentionally fouled from there just to get Paul off of the floor. He didn’t return, but he didn’t need to in such a blowout. Without having seen him play with that tweaked shoulder, we have no way of knowing how healthy he’s going to be for Game 6.
But after watching Cameron Payne scorch the Lakers’ slower big men in space yet again, it’s worth asking how badly the Suns really need Paul at this stage of the series. Payne shot 7-of-11 from the field for 16 points, but won his minutes by only two points. Phoenix won Paul’s by a game-high 34 even if scored just nine points.
Prior to the collision with Matthews, it was unclear how healthy Paul actually was. Yes, he was incredible in Game 4, and yes, he made his first 3-pointer of the series on Tuesday, but he shot just 3-for-9 overall. Devin Booker did most of the heavy lifting offensively, and it’s not as though Paul dominated the game defensively either. It certainly didn’t seem like he was nearly back to 100 percent at any point in this game, and with Payne playing as well as he has, the Suns can afford to be cautious. If Paul seriously aggravated his shoulder injury, Phoenix could probably still win Game 6 without him if Anthony Davis is out as well.
3. The (not quite) $84 million man
No player should ever be condensed to a single game. The fact that Dennis Schroder was held scoreless in this game shouldn’t ultimately affect his next contract too much. Hell, his poor shooting ever since he returned from a health-and-safety-protocol-induced absence shouldn’t mean all that much either. These are small samples that we’re dealing with. But every shot Schroder misses is just another reminder of what might turn out to be one of the worst decisions of his career.
Earlier this season, the Lakers reportedly offered Schroder a four-year, $84 million contract extension. That was the most that they could legally put on the table, and he reportedly declined it. Schroder has never made an All-Star Game or averaged 20 points per game. He’s 6-1 and a woefully inconsistent shooter. He has started less than half of his career games. The odds of some team offering him $85 million were always going to be slim.
Yet, Schroder bet on himself, hoping that a strong playoff run could convince one of the few teams with cap space out there to make him their primary ball-handler and pay handsomely for the privilege. That’s not looking particularly likely right now, and it’s worth asking what scenario Schroder envisioned would make that possible. He was playing alongside LeBron James, who tends to run every aspect of his team’s offense in the playoffs. Gaudy numbers were never going to be likely in that scenario, yet as we saw tonight, he’s not equipped to lead the offense with James compromised, either. He looked like a role player, uncomfortable in a hostile road environment with the stakes at their highest. That’s not somebody that gets paid $84 million. That’s not somebody that comes particularly close.