PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns took a unique approach to guarding LeBron James, putting seven-foot-one centre Deandre Ayton on him.
James got his numbers, but the Suns frustrated the Lakers’ star and were able to push back when he tried to lead a late charge.
Ayton had 26 points, 10 rebounds and primary defensive duties against James, helping the Suns hold off the Los Angeles Lakers 118-109 on Saturday night.
“That was a fun game,” Ayton said. “I’m going to sleep well tonight.”
Phoenix lost the first three games this season against Los Angeles by double digits, but had the Lakers a bit discombobulated through three quarters in the season series finale.
The Suns’ defence on James, led by Ayton, helped.
The four-time league MVP was frustrated at times with Phoenix’s defence and his team’s inability to hang with the NBA’s worst team.
But, as he has so many times, James tried to lead the Lakers back.
With Los Angeles trailing by 14 with 6:06 left, James scored on a three-point play, hit a three-pointer and kicked out to Brandon Ingram for a corner three on the break. He followed with a dunk off a baseline drive to get the Lakers within 112-109.
Los Angeles got no closer, losing a game it couldn’t afford to lose while fighting for a playoff spot.
“We needed this game for obvious reasons,” said James, who had 27 points, 16 assists and nine rebounds. “It is just unfortunate with the opportunities we’ve had that we haven’t been able to seize the opportunity.”
The Suns appeared as if they would wilt down the stretch, as they had done so many times.
Instead, Phoenix shut down the Lakers and made six free throws in the final 52 seconds to win for the second time in three games following a 17-game losing streak.
Devin Booker added 25 points for the Suns.
“We showed we can close games, execute in crunch time, having enough discipline,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “They we were coming hard at us.”
Both teams were in the second game of a back-to-back.
The Lakers lost 131-120 to Milwaukee after the Bucks closed the game on a 15-2 run.
The Suns followed their first win in six weeks with a 130-116 loss to New Orleans, allowing the Pelicans to hit 16 three-pointers and shoot 67 per cent in the second half.
The Lakers won the last meeting against Phoenix 116-102, despite playing without James, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.
The Suns got off to a much better start in the season series finale against the Lakers, leading by 10 and making 13 of 19 shots in the first quarter.
Phoenix stretched the lead to 14 early in the second quarter, but Los Angeles used a late run to pull within 66-59 by halftime.
The Suns continued to frustrate James and the Lakers in the third quarter, stretching the lead to 95-78 behind Booker’s 12 points.
Midway through the fourth quarter, James led a push, but the Suns shoved back.