LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Phoenix Suns, fueled by 47 points from Devin Booker, beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-100, Thursday to eliminate the reigning NBA champions in the first round of the playoffs.
Superstar LeBron James scored 29 points to lead the Lakers, but they were unable to dig themselves out of a 29-point first-half hole and lost the best-of-seven Western Conference series four games to two.
The last defending NBA champion to be knocked out in the first round was the San Antonio Spurs in 2015.
“That’s the only way we wanted it to be honest,” Booker said of drawing the Lakers in the first round.
“We knew we weren’t going to get to where we wanted to go without going through them, and it happened to be in the first round.
“It was a tough match-up all the way through. Once they got us down 2-1 we had to regroup and get everything right and we came in and we battled.”
The Lakers clearly felt the lack of star Anthony Davis, who was a game-time decision to start after missing the second half of game four and all of game five with a groin strain.
But Davis, clearly hindered by the injury, lasted less than six scoreless minutes and the Suns grabbed the game by the throat in the first quarter with Booker scoring 22 points in the opening period.
Serbian center Nikola Jokic scored 36 points and the Denver Nuggets advanced to the second round by defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, 126-115.
The 7-footer went 13-of-22 from the field and added eight rebounds and six assists for the visiting Nuggets, who won the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series four games to two.
Denver will face the Phoenix Suns in the second round.
Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. scored 22 of his 26 points in the first quarter while Monte Morris added 22 off the bench for the Nuggets and Jokic had 20 points in the third quarter to spark a rally for the victory.
We made some big stops and scored some clutch baskets at big times,” Jokic said. “It was a team effort.”
The Trail Blazers seized a 14-point lead early in the third quarter but the Nuggets closed the period on a 14-4 run, then started the fourth on an 8-2 spurt to grab the lead and broke open the game in the final minutes.