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LeBron James’ 5-word response on Chris Paul run-in, COVID protocols after Game 1 loss to Suns

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The Los Angeles Lakers dropped Game 1 to the Phoenix Suns, 99-90. Heading into the series, one of the main points of intrigue was the first career playoff meeting between LeBron James and Chris Paul — the longtime friends and respective orchestrators for each team.

However, on Sunday, the anticipated chess match became less about minds and more about…shoulders.

At the 9:24 mark in the second quarter, James attempted a put-back lay-up, going over Paul on the way to the rim. Paul tried impending James’ attempt with his right arm and ended up colliding with Cameron Johnson.

Paul writhed in pain on the floor while grabbing his neck/shoulder area, before getting assistance from his good pal LeBron, who helped CP3 off the floor and gave him a hug of support. Paul’s ailment was initially labeled as a “left shoulder contusion.”

Paul returned four minutes later to a standing ovation. He gutted out seven points and eight assists in 36 minutes, despite the injury clearly hindering his ability to dribble and shoot.

Afterward, Phoenix head coach Monty Williams said his All-Star point guard passed along an encouraging diagnosis.

“I talked to him briefly just now and his words to me was he was okay and he would be okay moving forward. He was pretty sore when he came back but him playing today gave us a lot of juice, a lot of energy.”

Almost exactly two quarters later, early in the fourth, Paul — perhaps inadvertently, perhaps recklessly — returned the favor. As James went after his own missed free throw, the diminutive point guard undercut James while grabbing the Lakers star’s left shoulder.

James flailed and hit the deck in pain.

https://twitter.com/LA_HighLights24/status/1396581853037948932

 

As he got assistance from the Los Angeles training staff, Alex Caruso, Cameron Payne, and a late-braking Montrezl Harrell got into a brief skirmish that saw Caruso and Harrell receive technicals, while Payne — Paul’s backup — was tossed.

In his postgame remarks, LeBron provided a terse response when asked about the run-in with Bronny’s godfather and the status of his shoulder: “I’ll be ready to go for Game 2.”

His curtly vague answer aligns with how he’s discussed his ankle in recent days. Lots of comments like this:

(Last week, a still-bitter James implied malicious intent from Atlanta Hawks forward Solomon Hill, as James referred to his ankle injury as having “a grown man dive at my leg” on March 20. Harrell took umbrage with Hill’s actions, too.)

A few seconds later, James — evidently trying to weed out any possible playoff distractions — gave the exact same response when asked about the NBA’s determination that he violated COVID-19 protocols by attending an event with Drake and Michael B. Jordan last Monday.

“I’ll be ready to go for Game 2.”

The Lakers didn’t seem too thrilled by Paul’s actions, which earned a whistle for a loose-ball foul.

“My view was: an overly aggressive box-out, dangerous play, where ‘Bron was in the air and got undercut, and the guys stood up for him, I guess,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said.

Vogel added that he’ll have to review the film to understand everything that happened in the altercation between Harrell, Caruso, and Payne.

Anthony Davis chalked the situation up to “playoff intensity” more so than foul play, though he did point out the dangerous nature of Paul’s box-out.

“It’s playoff basketball. I didn’t necessarily see the play, only what ‘Bron had told me,” AD said. “But, it’s always tough, you know, you miss a free throw, and he jumps up to get the ball, anytime you hit somebody’s legs it’s always a dangerous play. And that’s what you don’t want. You don’t want anyone to get injured on plays like that.”

For his part, Chris Paul — who has a long history of sketchy plays throughout his career — dismissed any notion that his play was dirty.

“I don’t know anything about that. I have absolutely nothing to say about that. We’re just playing basketball and competing,” Paul told Yahoo Sports. “I’m just thankful we got the win, and I’m looking forward to Game 2.”

In general, Game 1 was a severely disappointing showing from the defending champions, who played their worst 48 minutes of basketball in weeks.

Davis (13 points) was thoroughly outplayed by DeAndre Ayton (21 points, 10-0f-11 FG, 16 rebounds) — the polar opposite outcome from the last Suns-Lakers meeting, in which Davis obliterated Phoenix on both ends and seemed to expose a weakness down low for the Suns.

Speaking of shoulders, Davis — who has been consistently listed on the Lakers’ status report with a “right shoulder sprain” that he has made little mention of — shouldered responsibility for the loss following arguably his worst game in purple-and-gold.

The Lakers were also crippled by an ice-cold night from three-point range (7-of-26, despite plenty of open looks), and never matched the energy of a Suns group playing in front of a packed house.

LeBron finished with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting, while Devin Booker was the game’s best player, slicing and dicing the Lakers’ pick-and-roll coverage for 34 points in his playoff debut.

All in all, it took less than four quarters for the series to officially get spicy.

“The intensity is where it’s supposed to be,” Davis said. “Guys getting into it, chirping. That’s playoff basketball. We have to get better and respond as a team. I feel like they were the more physical team tonight from the gate. And we have to be better in that department.”

Game 2 is Tuesday. Paul said he would be “absolutely” ready to go. Us, too.