The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns were in a close, hard-fought Game 4 that had the power to swing the balance of the series. Then, just before halftime, Anthony Davis suffered a Grade 1 groin strain that would remove him from the second half. Kyle Kuzma started in his place, and things went downhill almost immediately.
Kuzma found out he was starting in place of Davis for the second half with “30 seconds on the clock,” and it was clear he and the Lakers were not prepared. A four-point Suns lead at halftime became 14 before the eight-minute mark of the third quarter, and L.A. would not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Kuzma spoke about what went wrong for the Lakers in Davis’ absence. “We just had to adjust. I think obviously we’re tailor-made to one type of basketball when AD is out there. Obviously, when he wasn’t out there we had to try to figure out more on the fly how we’re going to execute offensively and what is our DNA going to be without that. Defensively, it wasn’t our problem. We held them to 100 points. They had a couple of their players hit some shots.”
The Lakers forward discussed the specific adjustments they need to make if Davis is out moving forward. “If AD is not out there then we have to play a different style and different brand of basketball. Not just throw and look at Bron the whole time. Obviously, he’s great in his own right, but for us, we just got to play basketball.
“If he doesn’t, that just means I have the ball in my hands a little bit more. Whether that be as a scorer or make the right play. … It’s not just go out there and just try to score 30. It’s not that. It’s being out there playing sound being in the right spots. Get my teammates better and when I’m open be aggressive.”
Overall, Kuzma said the feeling in the locker room is still one of optimism.
“I think we’re optimistic still. Being in the locker room having conversations. Just trying to figure it out. We do that every game whether we win or whether we lose. We’re a team that’s trying to digest and figure what happened and we just try to go from there and I think that’s our mindset. We’ll be ready Game 5.”
Game 5 is on Tuesday so the Lakers have just one day off while also having to travel to Phoenix during that day. This not only affects the daily routines of the Lakers, but it also decreases the likelihood that Davis is ready to go.
The Lakers were 11-7 this season when LeBron James played but Davis did not. If he cannot go on Tuesday, it will be interesting to see how the Lakers adjust in what is essentially a must-win. Coming back from a 3-2 deficit is not impossible — especially with Game 6 at home — but they would certainly rather be up 3-2 heading back to Los Angeles.
James putting pressure on himself to lead in Davis’ absence
With the possibility of Davis not playing in Game 5 being very real, James took it upon himself to show that he’ll be ready for the challenge. “For me, it’s putting our team in position to be successful. It starts with my approach,” James said.
“It starts with my accountability and trickles down to everybody else. These shoulders were built for a reason and if it takes for me to put more on top of it then so be it. Win, lose or draw. I’m ready for the challenge.”
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