Ayton notches double-double in OT thriller

It was a battle of the giants in the National Basketball Association (NBA) on Wednesday night as Bahamian DeAndre Ayton and Phoenix Suns (36-14) battled the league-leading Utah Jazz (38-13) in a matchup of the league’s two best teams, record-wise.

The Suns won in an overtime thriller, 117-113, at the Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Bahamian finished with a double-double, notching 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 41 minutes of play. He was one of three Suns players who logged over 40 minutes. Chris Paul and Devin Booker were the other two.

With this win, the Suns now pull to within one and a half games of the first-place Jazz in the Western Conference of the NBA. They are now three games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (34-18), who they played last night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, but the result of that game was unavailable up to press time.

The win against the Jazz was the Suns’ seventh straight and their ninth in their last 10 games. The win also continued a perfect start to the month of April as they have a 3-0 win/loss record this month.

Booker finished with a team-high 35 points while Paul finished with 29 points in the win. The Suns had to overcome a huge game by Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell as he dropped in a game-high 41 points.

Ayton finished 9-for-16 from the field, shooting 56.3 percent. He was busy on the offensive glass as he cleaned up his team’s misses seven times and managed to pull down five defensive boards. He had a tough matchup against the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, and spoke about that battle.

“That is the defensive player of our league,” Ayton said. “Him being a presence on both ends of the floor, you are going to have to bring your ‘A’ game. He is a strong physical dude who knows the game and obviously I learnt a lot playing against him and matching his energy. You just have to be ready to play. You just have to study and watch film to see his tendencies after a game like this.”

Defensively, Ayton has recorded at least one block in four straight games. In the game against the Jazz, he had three blocks and two steals.

The number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft had eight points by the end of the first half and picked up his two steals in the second quarter. The second quarter was dominated by the Suns. They went into the intermission ahead 51-40.

The Jazz surged ahead at the end of three, taking a 78-77 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

At the 9:20 mark of the fourth quarter, Ayton caught a lob from Paul and stuffed it for his 16th point of the night. He did not make another basket until the 2:37 mark in that quarter as he scored on a tip-in after crashing the offensive glass. On that possession that came after a Suns’ timeout, Ayton scored his final two points of the night. Booker missed a three-point shot and the Suns’ Jae Crowder got an offensive rebound. Booker then took a three-pointer that missed, and Ayton got one of his seven offensive boards. Paul then took an eight-foot shot and missed which set up another offensive rebound from Ayton. He scored on a tip-in to put the Suns up 97-96.

That possession showed the energy that Ayton spoke about that teams struggle with against them. He spoke about how the team has changed over the past two years.

“This is a whole different team. I am a different player. It’s a whole different approach. We treated this game like it was a playoff game. We did everything that we wanted to do. We made them feel uncomfortable and we stuck to our game plan. No matter how the game went, we stuck together and kept positivity and energy in the air and that is what teams struggle with – our energy,” Ayton said.

The Suns took a 102-99 lead with 50 seconds left in the game. That lead did not last long as Mitchell hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game and send it to overtime.

In overtime, Ayton was unable to get a turnaround jump shot off at the 3:57 mark – his only shot attempt in the extra session. The overtime session belonged to his teammate Booker. The All-Star guard had seven of his team’s 15 points in the extra session. The Suns outscored the visitors who had 11 in that period and held on for the win. The Suns defended home court and now look to apply more pressure on the Jazz to take the coveted number one spot in the conference.

Ayton’s 10.8 rebounds per game this season has him at number nine in the league in rebounds. He has 541 total rebounds. Leading the league in rebounds is Clint Capela of the Atlanta Hawks at 14.2 rebounds per contest.

The Suns looked to make it eight straight wins last night when they took on the Clippers, but the result was unavailable up to press time.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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