There will be one lasting image of the Los Angeles Lakers 2021 season.
It will undoubtedly be the moment that Anthony Davis, after giving it everything he had to start in Game 6, collapsed to the floor midway through the first quarter and began to cry. He knew, just like we all did, that his strained left groin wasn't healthy enough to continue to play any longer. And as AD goes, so do the Lakers.
Davis missed half of the regular season with an Achilles injury, and nearly half of their first round series with the Suns with a left knee and groin injury.
The lasting image of Davis was drastically different than the one of him shedding tears of joy after winning his first NBA Championship inside the bubble in Orlando, Florida less than eight months ago.
Perhaps, it was that championship that played an important part in why the Lakers are headed home and not advancing to the second round against the Denver Nuggets.
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After the shortest offseason in NBA history, the Lakers began training camp just 60 days after they lifted the Larry O'Brien trophy at Walt Disney World. With no time to fully rest and recover, the Lakers were injury riddled all season long. It finally caught up to them in the postseason.
The Phoenix Suns, who also entered the bubble, but returned home after just a couple weeks, missing out on the postseason entirely in 2020, looked like the more fresh, healthy, and energetic team throughout the series.
In the pivotal Game 5 and decisive Game 6, Devin Booker, playing in his first playoff series, torched the reigning champions. Booker had 30 points in Game 5, and 47 in Game 6, as the Lakers suffered their second straight blowout loss, 113-100, this time ending their season.
Similar to Game 5, the Suns opened up a 29-point lead in the first half of Game 6 and led from start-to-finish. Davis started the game, but after Phoenix attacked him relentlessly in the pick-in-roll, Davis was forced to leave the game after just five minutes and with no points on no shot attempts.
LeBron James did his best to try and bring the Lakers back from the brink, but without his superstar teammate and nobody to stop Booker on defense, the Suns eclipsed the Lakers like we saw with the Blood Moon a week ago. James finished with 29 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.
Booker was a one-man wrecking crew for the Suns. The two-time All-Star had 33 points at the half, and finished with 47 points, 11 rebounds, and a game-high eight three-pointers. Forward Jae Crowder, who lost to the Lakers in the Finals last October in the bubble when he was with the Miami Heat, finished with six three's and 18 points.
The Lakers, who struggled throughout the series from the perimeter, were a pedestrian 10-for-35 (28 percent). They scored just 14 points in the first quarter and only 41 at the half.
The reigning champions put up a fight in the third quarter, outscoring the Suns, 35-27, and cutting the once 29-point lead down to as little as 10 midway through the fourth quarter. The Lakers also held the advantage in the paint, 56-26, and in second-chance points, 27-6. The two biggest differences in the game was three-point and free-throw shooting. Phoenix outscored the Lakers 54-30 from beyond the arc, and shot 22 (making 21) free throws to the Lakers 16.
James, who put the Lakers on his back in the second half as they tried to chip away at he lead, ran out of gas late in the fourth quarter. With just over seven minutes remaining, James asked to be taken out of the game for a quick rest, sitting on the bench trying to catch his breath.
Without James on the court for even a short stretch, the Lakers were defenseless against the Suns. Cam Johnson hit two quick three-pointers to put Phoenix back up by 17. Despite James' valiant effort, the Lakers were never going to go very far in the playoffs without Davis.
After a pathetic 13-point performance by Davis in a Game 1 loss, Davis took responsibility and vowed to be better in Game 2. He bounced back with 34 points and 10 rebounds in a 109-102 win, and followed that up with another 34-point performance that put the Lakers in the driver seat in the series 2-1.
In Game 5, the Lakers led by as many as 11 in the second quarter, but Davis went up for a layup attempt and crashed to the ground grabbing his left groin just before the half. He did not return to the game, and without him the Lakers got blown out in the second half.
With the series even at 2-2, Davis was ruled out for Game 5 with a left groin strain and the Lakers lost by 30. It was much of the same when he left in Game 6, and now the Lakers will have plenty of time to rest and recover in the offseason as they reload for another title run in 2022.
For the first time since the 1985-86 season, the Lakers will not repeat as champions after winning the title the previous year, following a season in which they did not win the title the year before that.
Entering their first-round series with the Suns, the Lakers were looking to become just the 11th team in NBA Playoff history to defeat a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the first round.
Los Angeles will have plenty of questions to answer in the offseason as 11 different players are eligible for free agency. Among the biggest names that could be missing in purple in gold next season are Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Wes Matthews, Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Andre Drummod.
The Suns will play the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals on Monday.