Bahamian center with the Phoenix Suns DeAndre Ayton stepped up to the free throw line with 2.8 seconds left in their game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night and calmly sank both free shots to seal a victory for the Suns. Those two free throws helped the Suns (31-9) to hold on to a 99-95 victory over the Raptors who fell to a 20-18 win/loss record.
The game was played in an empty Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada – no fans due to the 1000 individual limit stipulation as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
Ayton was huge the play before the two free shots as he corralled his ninth rebound off a Fred VanVleet missed free throw with four seconds left in the game. That rebound stopped a potential Raptors offensive rebound that would have given them a chance to tie the game or take the lead.
The win gave the Suns sole possession of first place in the Western Conference Standings after the Golden State Warriors lost to the Memphis Grizzlies later that night. The Suns have the best record in the league. They are now 14-4 on the road and also snapped the Raptors’ six-game winning streak and five-game streak at home.
Ayton was one rebound shy of a double-double as he finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes on the floor. The big man went 5-for-7 from the field. He had a block and was perfect from the charity stripe for a third straight game, going 6-for-6.
It was a very competitive game that had 10 lead changes and 15 ties. The fourth quarter displayed the competitiveness of the game as the Suns chipped away at the Raptors’ six-point lead with just over nine minutes left in the quarter. The Suns were able to tie it up at 79 when Mikal Bridges converted an and-one play with 7:46 left in the game.
Ayton, the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, got a bucket with 4:13 remaining in the game to give his team an 89-83 lead – their largest of the game up to that point. That lead dwindled as the Raptors came back and led 90-89 with 1:41 left in the game. The two teams exchanged free throws down the stretch, but the Suns stayed at least one point ahead. Ayton’s teammate Chris Paul put the Suns up 97-94 on two made free throws with 5.3 seconds left in the game. Ayton helped the Suns clinch the victory the rest of the way with his defensive board and ensuing free throws.
The Suns got off to a rough start as the Raptors led 31-23 after the first quarter.
It was an ugly game for the Suns as they could not control the Raptors on the offensive glass or in rebounding on the whole. The Raptors finished with a season-high 22 offensive boards and had 15 more shot attempts than the Suns. The Suns grabbed 39 boards while the Raptors finished with 47 boards in total.
The Suns average 13.9 turnovers per game but against the Raptors, they coughed the ball up 20 times.
The gritty win against the Raptors is a positive start to the Suns’ five-game road trip. They will head to Indianapolis, Indiana to play the Indiana Pacers (15-26) at Gainbridge Fieldhouse tomorrow night. That game tips off at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.