Lakers' Frank Vogel explains why LeBron James left bench before end of Game 5 vs. Suns

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(Getty Images)

You could imagine the debate show segments coming, right? As soon as LeBron James walked back to the locker room during the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 115-85 loss to the Suns on Tuesday night, you could immediately envision the graphics popping up as the talking heads bloviated for viewers who were sort of paying attention while pouring another cup of coffee.

But hey, how about we actually provide a little context before ripping James for his lack of leadership, commitment to the team or whatever else we can pile on top of him?

MORE: NBA players react to Damian Lillard's incredible Game 5 performance

Here's the situation: With Phoenix closing in on a 3-2 series lead and a little under six minutes remaining in regulation, the TNT broadcast momentarily shifted away from the action on the court and caught James leaving the bench area. Play-by-play man Kevin Harlan noted that James may have been going to receive treatment on his ankle. (James missed 26 of the Lakers' final 30 regular season games after suffering a high right ankle sprain in late March.)

When asked about the situation after the game, Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel confirmed James' early exit was related to injury management.

"In terms of LeBron going in the back, LeBron had to start his treatment," Vogel said. "It doesn't do any good for him to sit over there without getting worked on or beginning the treatment as soon as possible to help him get ready for Game 6."

James noted that he was being treated in the locker room with Anthony Davis, who missed Game 5 with a groin injury. James, who had 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes, told reporters that he is preparing as though Davis will not be available for a win-or-go-home Game 6. If Davis can't rejoin the starting lineup, James will need to play at an MVP level in order for the Lakers to avoid elimination and force a Game 7.

"I mean, it's literally win or go home at that point, so you shoot all the bullets you got and throw the gun, too," James said. "I look forward to the environment. Obviously our Laker faithful is going to give us a lot of energy. I look forward to the moment. I look forward to the challenge."

Sure, James and the Lakers will receive plenty of deserved criticism for a horrendous display in a pivotal playoff game. Let's just not make a big deal out of this one part. (Oh, it's already being blown out of proportion? Ah, well, we tried.)

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