There were multiple moments inside Staples Center on Thursday night where it looked neither team wanted to take control of the game.
With the best-of-seven series deadlocked at 1-1, and fans in Los Angeles allowed inside Staples Center for the first playoff game since April 27, 2013, the atmosphere was electric.
The 7,825 allowed in attendance because of COVID-19 made it sound like a packed house. They rose to their feet for every rim-rattling dunk. They chanted "DE-FENSE!" at the top of their lungs, and jeered both Jae Crowder and the referees mercilessly throughout the night.
Thanks in large part to their effort, the Los Angeles Lakers finally took control in the second half, scorching the Phoenix Suns, 109-95, to take a 2-1 lead in the first round series.
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"It was good for us, good for our team," Davis said of the energetic Staples Center crowd. "We just can only imagine how it will be when it’s 20,000 in here. It was still loud, still electric. When we’re able to get the whole stadium in here, the whole fans screaming and yelling, I know it’s going to be even better."
Both teams struggled to start the game, turnovers and poor shooting by both teams led to a low-scoring first half with neither team taking more than a 4-5 point lead at any given point.
At halftime, neither team looked like the championship contenders they're supposed to be. The Lakers and Suns combined for just 83 points, the fewest by any two teams in any half this season according to ESPN Stats & Information. They also combined for over 20 turnovers and shot 7-for-32 from beyond the arc.
Lakers' forward Anthony Davis, who struggled in Game 1, continued to make his presence felt in the paint for the purple and gold. Davis led all scorers with 34 points and 11 rebounds.
At one point, Davis had fans holding their collective breaths after he chased down Devin Booker for a block late in the second quarter. Davis appeared to land awkwardly on his left knee and came up limping. His left knee was wrapped up when he returned to the bench from the locker room, but he played through the pain and slammed home multiple alley-oop dunks in the second half.
Speaking of highlight worthy dunks, nobody had more of those in Game 3 then LeBron James. The four-time NBA Champion finished with 21 points, six rebounds, and nine assists.
:It’s a beautiful thing," James said of the fans being allowed back in Staples Center for playoff basketball. "It was a special night, and we just tried to reward our fans for the loyalty they have for us, and just try to play the game the right way."
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Thanks in large part to James and Davis, the Lakers overcame their third consecutive poor shooting night to dominate the paint. Outscoring the Suns, 58-to-36 in that category.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left the game with a left quad contusion and did not return.
Chris Paul—questionable with a right shoulder injury—played 27 minutes and looked the best he has so far in the series.
Devin Booker had his worst game of the series, scoring just 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Booker was averaging 35 points after the first two games of the series in Phoenix.
“We were losing the game," said Booker who was ejected from the game late in the fourth quarter after being called for a flagrant two foul after pushing Dennis Schröder in the air while driving to the basket. "We want to win.”
During the regular season the Suns proved they were the most improved team from the 2019-20 pandemic interrupted season. The addition of Chris Paul sent the Suns to another level, and the second best record in the NBA. But the Lakers have the experience, and the talent to take over at any instant. They made the necessary adjustments to bounce back after a bad performance in Game 1, and once again overcame a poor shooting night to take the lead in the series.
"We're good enough to win even when the shots don't fall," said Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel. "But when those shots do start to fall we're going to be tough to beat."
Game 4 is Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.