Defending champs dethroned: Suns eliminate Lakers 113-100

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, June 3, 2021, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

  • Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) scored 22 of his 47 points to lead the Suns past Anthony Davis (3) and the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of their first-round series on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

LOS ANGELES — Devin Booker scored 22 of his 47 points in a phenomenal first quarter, and the Phoenix Suns won their first playoff series since 2010, eliminating the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers with a 113-100 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night.

Jae Crowder scored 18 points for the second-seeded Suns, who won three consecutive games to send LeBron James to a first-round series loss for the first time in his 18-year NBA career.

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Phoenix will meet Denver in the second round. Game 1 is Monday in Phoenix.

Chris Paul had eight points and 12 assists for the Suns, who jumped to a huge early advantage in the opening minutes of Game 6 while Anthony Davis struggled and eventually left due to his groin injury.

Although the Suns lost much of their early 29-point lead, they patiently held off the Lakers and James, who had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Booker and Paul stayed strong in the fourth quarter, and Phoenix ended a decade of hoops frustration in the Valley of the Sun with the clinching victory of Booker’s first career playoff series.

Davis returned to the Lakers’ starting lineup after missing the second half of Game 4 and all of Game 5, but the eight-time All-Star played less than 5 1/2 minutes before being sidelined again by his groin injury.

Booker and the Suns surged to a 29-point lead in the first half, but the Lakers trimmed it to 10 midway through the fourth quarter. Paul, Mikal Bridges and Crowder all hit big shots down the stretch to make sure the lead never went to single digits.

Dennis Schröder scored 20 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 19 for the Lakers, who won’t get to properly celebrate a title in front of their wild home fans this summer after last October’s sterile victory in the Florida bubble. The Lakers were 21-6 before they lost Davis and then James to long-term injuries starting on Valentine’s Day, and the champs never regained their best form.

Even with a healthy Davis, the Lakers would have hard-pressed to keep up on Booker’s latest evening of brilliance.

Booker hit all six of his 3-point attempts and went 8 for 9 overall while the Suns took a 36-14 lead after one quarter. The six-year veteran showed none of the shakiness from earlier in the series against the Lakers, shredding the NBA’s best defensive team with his silky-smooth jumper and heady penetration.

While Paul played through a persistent shoulder problem, injuries were insurmountable for Los Angeles, which had a 2-1 series lead on Phoenix when Davis injured his groin midway through Game 4 and subsequently missed Game 5.

Caldwell-Pope played well after missing most of the past two games with a bruised knee, but the Lakers also lost backup guard Alex Caruso to a left ankle injury midway through Game 6.

James had been 14-0 in first-round series during his career, which includes four championships. Only Lakers greats Derek Fisher and Robert Horry ever had more first-round perfection in NBA history, with both going 16-0.

With the resurgence of the injury problems that forced the Lakers down to the seventh seed in the West, they couldn’t recover against the Suns and Booker, who rose to lead Phoenix to its decisive wins.

Booker, who scored 30 points in Game 5, got help in the first quarter of Game 6 from three of Crowder’s six 3-pointers. Phoenix took a 21-point lead to halftime, but the Lakers trimmed it to only 13 heading to the fourth quarter with big efforts from James, Schröder and Wesley Matthews, who combined for 27 points.

NUGGETS 126, TRAILBLAZERS 115

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Denver Nuggets were undaunted, even when down 14 points in the third quarter and facing an antagonistic Portland crowd.

Nikola Jokic had 36 points and the Nuggets eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers in six games with a 126-115 victory Thursday night.

“Nobody can take the fight out of us,” Jokic said. “We will just go out there and fight and that’s what we have been doing. We’re never going to quit. Quit is not in our vocabulary.”

Michael Porter Jr. added 26 points, including 22 in the opening quarter, for the third-seeded Nuggets. Denver will take on Phoenix, which eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6, 113-100. Game 1 in the series is Monday in Phoenix.

Denver advanced to the Western Conference semifinals for the third straight season.

Damian Lillard finished with 28 points and 13 assists for the sixth-seeded Blazers. They led by 14 points in the third quarter but couldn’t stave off elimination.

Monte Morris hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close Denver to 101-98 heading into the last period. Jokic hit a 3-pointer to put Denver ahead 108-106 and the Nuggets stretched it to 117-108 on Austin Rivers’ 3 with 3:52 left.

Portland tried to catch up, pulling to 121-115 on CJ McCollum’s layup, but Aaron Gordon hit a corner 3-pointer that all but sealed it for Denver with less than a minute to go.

“I think the key was when they were going on runs and we weren’t playing our best every huddle was positive, staying engaged, demanding guys to be better, but staying together,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “I think we’ve shown as a group that every time we hit adversity, most times, we never run from it. We buckle down, we embrace it, we find a way.”

Portland crumbled in the final quarter, outscored 28-14.

“We didn’t do what was necessary to win the series,” Lillard said. “We’ve got to keep fighting, keep working and keep coming back to battle. Regardless of how it ended, we are always going to have our heads held high, have class. They won, congratulations to them, but it’s back to the drawing board to us.”

The Nuggets took a 3-2 lead in the series with a 147-140 double overtime victory in Denver on Tuesday night. It spoiled Lillard’s epic playoff performance: He had 55 points, including 12 3-pointers, and 10 assists. It was the most 3-pointers ever in a playoff game.

The Blazers needed big man Jusuf Nurkic to stay out of foul trouble. Tasked with defending Jokic, he fouled out in three of the first five games.

Nurkic didn’t have a foul in the first half, but then had four quick fouls in the third quarter and had to head to the bench.

“I think one of the reasons is they just outplayed us,” Nurkic said when asked about what went wrong for the Blazers. “I give them credit, they had a hell of a season.”

Porter had six 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, tying an NBA playoff record for most 3s a quarter.

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“Here’s a young man, 26 points in back-to-back games, and he’s only a second-year player. So Mike is only gonna get better than he already is, which is a scary thought,” Malone said. “It was important for Michael to get off to that start because he kind of kept us afloat.”

Lillard hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Blazers a 68-61 lead at the half. He raised his arms to encourage the crowd as he headed off the floor.

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