LOS ANGELES — After beating the Lakers 114-104 on Tuesday without their leading scorer and All-Star, Devin Booker, down the stretch, the Phoenix Suns said they put a stamp of legitimacy on their season.
“I think Jae Crowder said it best: We got better tonight,” said Suns coach Monty Williams after the game. “You gain confidence when a guy like Book doesn’t play or gets tossed and you’re able to pull a game out on the road at the end of a trip. That’s a recipe for mailing it in, and this group has shown a lot of resiliency. But that was a big-time character win, and we got better.
“I think we played good tonight, but we probably got more confidence that we can pull a game out without Devin or Chris [Paul] saving the day.”
Booker was tossed for picking up two technical fouls with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter and Phoenix ahead 70-63. Booker had 17 points at the time to lead the Suns.
“Booker received his first technical foul for continuous complaining and then he received his second technical foul, and as per rule was ejected, for directing profane language at a game official,” crew chief Marc Davis told ESPN as part of a pool report after the game.
The Lakers, playing without Anthony Davis for an eighth straight game because of right leg injuries and also missing starting center Marc Gasol (health and safety protocols) and Kyle Kuzma (bruised right heel), naturally saw the ejection as a chance to get back in the contest. But the Suns doubled their lead from seven to 14 by the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter without Booker.
“I don’t know if it was a big effect, other than we felt like we had an opportunity to win a game that we were down in,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “It didn’t play out that way.”
The win capped a 3-0 trip for Phoenix and improved the Suns’ record to 15-3 in their past 18 games. They also leapfrogged L.A. in the standings, moving up to No. 2 in the Western Conference with the victory.
“We’re just trying to get better each and every game, but I felt honestly today we got better,” said Crowder, who, with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, was one of five Suns to score in double digits. “I came in the locker room and told the guys that. Booker left in the third quarter and we just could have folded or could have stepped up to the challenge, and we decided to step up to the challenge.”
Phoenix’s bench outscored L.A.’s reserves 38-27, and the Suns shot 16-for-29 from the 3 line (55.2%) as compared to the Lakers’ 11-for-31 mark from deep (35.5%).
“Can’t get too happy on the farm, man,” Suns forward Mikal Bridges said. “We know what we’re doing; we know we’re getting better. We just got to keep progressing and getting better.
“Any team can be beat, and if we relax, there’s a lot of tough teams. Even teams with not great records, they’re going to play hard, so we got to keep getting better, not relax and keep playing our way.”
Phoenix has one more game before the All-Star break, at home against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.