The Los Angeles Lakers had their backs against the wall last night. Down 1-0 to the Phoenix Suns and facing the possibility of a two-game deficit in the first round of the playoffs, all eyes were on the defending champs. As a team, they looked dead in the water in Game 1; LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for only 31 points in a nine-point loss. LeBron didn't look like he was totally recovered from his ankle injury. Davis was settling for and missing jumpers. Andre Drummond looked like the worst player to suit up for any of the playoff teams.
The pressure was on in Game 2. If the Lakers turned in another clunker and returned home down 2-0, the quest for a repeat championship would be that much harder and the noise that Los Angeles was done would grow much louder. It was the type of game where the best teams make a statement, shut everyone up, and win the damn thing.
That's just what the Lakers did. Davis finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. LeBron wrapped up a relatively quiet night for The King with 23 points, nine assists, and four rebounds. They collectively benefitted from Chris Paul's bum shoulder as the Suns were forced to play Cam Payne down the stretch, who was great but isn't Chris Paul.
This game was an impressive win more so through the way the Lakers earned their victory than simply the end result. It was a close game with the final minutes of the fourth quarter waning. The Lakers were leading by only one point when the Suns took a timeout with 3:40 remaining. In the postseason, that's exactly when the best players on the floor decide the game. The Lakers did just that.
Davis inhales an Ayton hook shot on the defensive end. LeBron comes down and scores with his patented 25-foot fadeaway on the block that nobody can defend, no matter how hard they try. They then swarm Booker and force a missed jump shot before Davis nailed an open three to make it a seven-point lead. After Davis and Booker trade free throws, the Suns blow a pick-and-roll coverage, giving LeBron a wide-open look from three. He has not shot well from deep since returning from his ankle injury-- but he knew it was time to close the door, and he did just that.
This is what a true championship team looks like. The Lakers moved on a string as a unit defensively, shutting down Booker and Ayton without Paul to make them pay or manipulate their coverage. When the moment was biggest, their leaders and superstars made the shots that mattered most. It wasn't quite do-or-die, given it was only Game 2, but it sure felt like it after an easy Suns win in Game 1. LeBron and AD delivered.
The rumors of the Lakers' demise was greatly exaggerated, it seems. This is still a championship squad who will make the right plays and hit the big shots at the most important moments. If the Suns want any chance of moving to the second round, they need to make sure the next few games don't come down to the final minutes. If they do, LeBron and Davis will just do this again and again until they emerge victorious. That's championship basketball.