The final game of the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals pitted Pacific Division rival Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Lakers. With one spot left in Las Vegas, where the semifinals and finals will occur, it was the Lakers who would take advantage of interesting officiating in the final minutes to advance.
The Suns did their part in being their own worst enemy. The Suns allowed the Lakers to have 27 more shots, doing so by permitting 21 offensive rebounds and committing 22 turnovers.
Kevin Durant was 12-of-17 from the field, with one of his misses being a game-tying three-pointer as time expired. He had 31 points. He was joined by both Devin Booker and Grayson Allen, both of whom had 21 points each.
LeBron, like in previous games against the Suns this season, lay in wait, biding his time until the fourth quarter began. He had 15 of his 31 in the fourth. AD added 27 points and 15 rebounds — 9 on the offensive end — and the Lakers won to advance to the IST semis.
Phoenix started the game shooting well, although they had issues controlling the ball. Five early turnovers mirrored games they had had previously this season with the Lakers. The Suns have averaged 18.1 turnovers per game against Los Angeles this season.
It was a point of emphasis that I had stated in my game preview, as well as the likelihood that the Lakers would attack Jusuf Nurkic with the superior Anthony Davis, attempting to get him in foul trouble. Both came to fruition early as picked up two early fouls and the Suns allowed 4 points off of turnovers.
It was AD that took advantage early and often as the Lakers attacked the interior of the Suns’ defense. Davis ended with 14 points and Los Angeles ended with 20 points in the paint in the first quarter.
The Suns continued to have issues securing the ball and had ten total first-quarter turnovers. They had nine total made field goals.
The Suns had 10 Q1 TO’s and 9 made FG’s.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) December 6, 2023
Suns down 10 points after the first quarter, 33-23.
The Lakers were clearly in attack mode while the Suns were on their heels in the first half. It continued in the second half as Los Angeles was relentless on the boards, crashing every chance they could in an effort to earn extra possessions.
A scary moment early as Jaxson Hayes, a player who has a reputation for being less than clean, dove for a ball and rolled up on Devin Booker’s ankles.
Bit of a scary moment in LA for Devin Booker. Had his ankle dove and stretched it a little bit before getting back up while looking a bit uncomfortable.— Donnie Druin (@DonnieDruin) December 6, 2023
He’s still in the game. pic.twitter.com/Rm8i4ChvB3
The Lakers pushed their lead to 15 points by relying on the same formula: using their size and physicality on the interior. Phoenix responded with a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 8 points, but it was Nurkic’s third foul that ended the run. And sent him back to the bench.
Jordan Goodwin had 7 early points as he provided a much-needed spark for Phoenix coming off of the bench.
It was the time spent on the bench by LeBron that the Suns took advantage of, as they went on an 11-1 run while he was sitting.
It was 44-29 when LeBron went to the bench. It's 45-40 as he returns.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) December 6, 2023
When James returned, however, so too did the recipe for defensive intensity and offensive rebounding. What follows? A 10-0 run by Los Angeles and the Suns down 14.
Los Angeles only shot 40% in the first half, but their 12 offensive rebounds and 16 points off of 14 Suns’ turnovers, coupled with a dominant 20 points by AD, equated to a 12-point halftime lead, 59-47. Devin Booker had 5 turnovers and 8 points, and Grayson Allen led all Suns with 10 points.
That was an awful half of Suns basketball. The fact that their down by only 12 is actually impressive.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) December 6, 2023
The Suns opened up on a 10-0 run behind the efforts of, you guessed it, Grayson Allen. He had eight of the Suns’ 10 points, hitting two three-pointers to shrink the Lakers’ lead to two points.
Suns open the second half on a 10-0. Who has 8 of those points?— The Bright Side (@BrightSideSun) December 6, 2023
You guessed it. https://t.co/U6tP6ULoxj
Ultimately, the Suns scored the first 14 points of the second half and took a two-point lead. It turns out we had a game after all.
A frenetic pace ensued in which both Phoenix and Los Angeles traded baskets and leads. An EG transition three-pointer. A Max Christie response.
It was Devin Booker who continued to struggle in the third. He started 4-of-12 shooting with 5 assists. And 6 turnovers.
If Devin Booker wakes up at any point, Suns will be fine. If not....— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) December 6, 2023
Austin Reaves made shots that got the Crypto.com Arena crowd in a tizzy, scoring from deep and on putbacks. He had 17 points off the bench through three including 13 in the third, and his energy lifted the Lakers late in the period.
The 12-point deficit was narrowed to 1 by Phoenix, outscoring Los Angeles 35-24 in Q3. LA 83, PHX 82.
Foul trouble began to rear its ugly head early in the fourth. Devin Booker was hit with his fifth foul with 9:37 left in the fourth and the game tied 87-87. This meant that Kevin Durant, who had four fouls himself, had to return to the game.
Booker's gotta be aware of having 4 fouls. A reckless 5th.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) December 6, 2023
KD tweaked his left ankle on a play defended by Jaxson Hayes and gingerly passed out of the possession. He did return to the game, but if he ends up on the injury report, remember this sentence.
Durant held it down without Booker, hitting big shot after big shot, waiting for his fellow all-star to return. Booker returned with 6:18 left in the game.
The Suns switched up their defensive philosophy on LeBron late in the game. Rather than allow him to iso and get physical, they ran doubles at him in mid-post isolations. When it was late in the clock, he was forced to pass out and this tiny adjustment negated his continual effectiveness. This led to tough shots for L.A. and/or shot clock violations.
The whistles weren’t friendly to Phoenix, however. Cam Reddish continually raked the Suns players as they drove to the cylinder, but the officials forgot that this was basketball when he was playing. The Lakers didn’t receive their first personal foul until under three minutes left in the game. Conversely, the Suns had every major contributor in foul trouble.
Down 102-99 with under a minute, the Suns were denied a take foul in transition, but Booker hit a layup to get it to 102-101. The Lakers responded with a three-pointer by Austin Reaves. Phoenix forced a Reaves into a steal, but the officials gave the Lakers a time out despite Reaves fumbling the ball.
Enjoy your W, Los Angeles. Hopefully, the officials get some of that $500k you’ll win.
These refs were sent by Adam Silver himself to rig the Lakers into making the next round. No other explanation for how horrendous this officiating was tonight.— Suns Report (@TheSunsReport) December 6, 2023
The Suns will be back at the Footprint Center on Friday, playing the team that lost to the New Orleans Pelicans in the other IST quarterfinal game, the Sacramento Kings. We shall see you then, Bright Siders.