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Ayton, Suns stun the Lakers

In what turned out to be one of his more prolific performances of the season, Bahamian big man DeAndre Ayton powered in a side-high 26 points, leading the Phoenix Suns past the bewildered Los Angeles Lakers, 118-109, at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, on Friday.

Ayton was a thorn in the Lakers’ side all evening, shooting 8-for-11 from the floor and going 10-for-14 from the charity stripe. He also secured a game-high 10 rebounds, dished out three assists, picked off two passes and had a block in 34 minutes of play. It was one of his more complete performances of the season and helped send the Lakers to their second-straight loss and fourth in their last five games.

Devin Booker added 25 points, four rebounds and four assists for the Suns. Josh Jackson came off the bench to score 16, and Kelly Oubre Jr. added 14 points five rebounds and four assists.

The Lakers were led by a near triple double from LeBron James — 27 points, 16 assists and nine rebounds. Brandon Ingram had 25 points and seven rebounds, and JaVale McGee had a perfect shooting night, going 10-for-10, for 21 points. He added seven rebounds.

It was a devastating loss for the Lakers, as they lost to the worst team in the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Western Conference and fell four and a half games out of the final playoff spot in the west. The Lakers have a 30-33 win-loss record on the season, while the Suns are just 13-51.

Behind Ayton, who was dominant in the paint, the Suns shot 51.3 percent from the floor as a team. They finished 39-for-76.

“It was pretty intense,” Ayton was quoted as saying on the team’s website. “Fans of both teams, no matter who was chanting for who, the energy was going crazy. It was a fun game, I’m glad we won this one. I had fun, the fans loved it and we got the win.”

Booker had nothing but high praise of the Suns’ 20-year-old rookie starting center.

“I think DeAndre did a good job on LeBron, keeping his body in front of him and using his size,” said Booker about his teammate on the team’s website. “LeBron’s a hell of a player that can facilitate and score and DA (Ayton) did a good job. For a rookie to guard one of the best players in the league is incredible.”

Suns’ Head Coach Igor Kokoškov reiterated those sentiments.

“I think DeAndre accepted the challenge, understanding that it was a key match-up… building the wall, so we don’t have to deal with his post-up isolations,” he said. “Overall, I think it was a big part of the defensive kind of strategy of the game plan, and he (Ayton) executed pretty well.”

Ayton started strong, knocking down his team’s first two baskets. He finished with nine points in the opening quarter, and the Suns led 33-26 after one. The Suns maintained the lead in the second quarter, and led 66-59 at the break. Ayton remained aggressive in the third, and so was his teammate Booker. They outscored the Lakers by their lonesomes in the third, 20-19, and the Suns took a commanding 17-point lead (95-78) into the fourth.

The Lakers made a strong push to get back in the game but the Suns made some clutch free shots down the stretch to put the game away. The Lakers got as close as three points, 112-109, with 1:14 remaining on the clock, but then missed their final two shots while the Suns went 6-for-6 from the line.

Ayton’s performance of 26 points and 10 rebounds was his rookie-leading 33rd double-double of the season. He is also the only rookie in the league averaging a double-double this season — 16.6 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. Ayton is eighth in the league in field goal percentage, shooting 59.3 percent from the floor for the season. It is one of the highest field goal percentage for rookies in the history of the game.

On defense on Saturday, he did a respectable job on James, helping to hold the four-time most valuable player (MVP) to below 50 percent shooting. James shot 10-for-21 from the floor. From battling in the paint to extending his defense beyond the arc, Ayton stayed locked-in on James all night and continuously forced the ball out of his hand.

Despite the record of both teams, it would be the Suns who would come out strong and be the aggressive team all night. They now prepare to host the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks tonight. That game is set for 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.

The other Bahamian in the NBA, Chavano “Buddy” Hield, and the Sacramento Kings were in action on Friday night. They lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, 116-109, at home, and dropped to .500 basketball — 31-31 on the season. The Kings are three games out of the final playoff spot in the west.

Hield shot 6-for-19 from the floor and finished with a side-high 23 points and added seven rebounds. He was 3-for-8 from distance and now has 209 successful three-point shots this season, extending his career-high. That mark has him at number four in the league in three-point makes. He is also fourth in three-point percentage, connecting on 44.3 percent from downtown for the season.

Hield is creeping up on the franchise record of 240 successful three point shots in a season, that was done by Peja Stojakovic in the 2003-04 season.

Hield and the Kings finished with an 0-4 winless record against the Clippers in their season series. They hope to rebound when they host the New York Knicks at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, tonight. That game is set for 10 p.m. EST start.

Sheldon Longley

Sports Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.
Education: College of The Bahamas, Associates in Accounting

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