In a tense and physical Game 4, the Suns tied their first-round series with the Lakers, drawing a 2-2 draw with a 100-92 victory. The series is fast becoming a war of attrition. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed the entire game and Anthony Davis missed the second half with injuries, while Chris Paul, still undecided with his right shoulder injury, had his best game of the postseason. LeBron James scored 25 points in the loss, but Paul led a balanced attack from Phoenix with 18 points in what was a valiant defensive battle. Here are three thoughts on the Suns victory.
Chris Paul is coming to life
The first three games of this series brought out a very muted version of CP3, who hurt his right shoulder early in Game 1. On Sunday, Paul finally looked closer at the Hall of Fame version of himself. He played 32 minutes, his first time over 30 since Game 1, and his 18 points were the first time he reached double digits in these playoffs. While Paul’s efficiency isn’t quite right (7 of 15 from the court, 0 of 3 from three), it’s not just about scoring when it comes to his impact. CP looked more aggressive handling the ball on pick-and-rolls, which goes a long way in simplifying the lives of his teammates. Paul was being practically ignored by the Laker defenders for large periods of the last two games. Reaching his mid-range area of operation in Game 4 put more pressure on Los Angeles. It opened up enough room for guys like Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges to hit some timely 3s, while also giving Deandre Ayton a favorable lane position. And late in the quarter, with the Lakers mounting a comeback, Paul made a brilliant defensive play, deflecting and stealing a pass from Marc Gasol that saved Phoenix from a tight spot and helped preserve a precarious seven-point lead. If Paul continues to improve in terms of health, and Davis is now dealing with his own problems, the tenor of this entire series changes.
Deandre Ayton continues to impress
Phoenix took control of this game (and then held its own) in the third quarter, in large part due to the continued rebirth of the great man Deandre Ayton. The former No. 1 overall pick posted his fourth straight double-double on Sunday, and with 14 points and 17 rebounds, he is now averaging 19.8 points and 13.5 rebounds per night in his first postseason. Ayton’s energy really stands out. He’s dominating his matchup against Andre Drummond, and the Lakers have had very little answers for him when he’s active in the paint. He’s also proving to be a valuable defensive deterrent, particularly with Lakers lineups that often struggle with shooting. The Suns had a defensive rating of 89.7 with Ayton on the floor in Game 4. They’re solid up and down the lineup, but Ayton went from being a target of rival teams to becoming a major factor in a high-stakes postseason. The showdown has been one of the most impressive developments of the playoffs.
Where do the Lakers go from here?
Now Los Angeles has to play the injury game. Even if Davis is out for a long time, the Lakers can win this series. They were closing in on Phoenix in the fourth, and Frank Vogel still has a few cards to play to advance. Gasol, for example, should almost certainly start Game 5. The Lakers’ offense, particularly without Davis, looked much better with him on the floor. Gasol hit three 3s Sunday, loosening the defense in a way that Drummond can’t. His presence on the court also helps get Ayton out of the paint, making life easier for James. Meanwhile, Alex Caruso was the team’s best plus-eight in Game 4, and it may be time to increase his minutes to 30. Caruso’s individual defense over Booker was stellar, and playing him and Gasol together tightens the Los Angeles defense bolts.
It’s amazing the difference a game can make. The Suns were a limping group that lost home court after Game 3. Now Phoenix has regained its home advantage and looks relatively healthy, while the Lakers grapple with injuries from a superstar (AD) and a solid starter (KCP). ). More twists and turns are almost certainly ahead. Game 5 is Tuesday.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.