Bahamian professional basketball player DeAndre Ayton was the main storyline on Tuesday night as he returned from a 25-game suspension in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He returned to the court and scored 18 points to go along with 12 rebounds for the Phoenix Suns in a lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, 120-99, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
The Suns were short-handed as they were without Devin Booker (right forearm contusion), Cam Johnson (left hip soreness) and Tyler Johnson (illness) on the second night of back-to-back games.
With that loss the Suns now sport an 11-16 win-loss record after losing their fourth game in a row. With 6’ 11” center Ayton getting his first game out of the way since the suspension, the Suns will be looking to get him into the flow of their system and build up some steam. They are tied for 10th in the tough Western Conference of the NBA.
In his first game back, the 2018 number one draft pick in the NBA connected on nine of his 19 shot attempts to finish with a 47.4 percent clip from the field.
Ayton got his first bucket of the game when he hit a jump shot over Clippers’ center Ivica Zubac from the baseline in the first quarter. He turned his ankle a bit, but said afterwards that was due to inactivity and that he will be okay.
After missing 25 games Ayton appeared a bit disoriented as he was called for two travel violations early in the game. After those violations Ayton settled in, setting some hard screens and boxing out his opponents for rebounds.
“At first I was like, ‘this court is like a soccer field,’” Ayton told reporters. “Then I started to get my second wind.”
The Suns lead the league in assists per game at 28.6 per game. They had 30 assists on Tuesday night and Ayton had three of them. The big man also had one block in the game. Ayton played 25 minutes on Tuesday night.
Leading all scorers in the game was the Clippers’ Paul George with 24. This was the Clippers’ first game at home in two weeks.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Ayton’s teammate who scored a team high 19 points, spoke to reporters after the game about Ayton being back.
“He still has to get in his rhythm, so I’m not going to judge him too hard,” Oubre said. “At the end of the day, he’s one piece of this puzzle.”
The Clippers are one of the best defensive teams in the league. They held the Suns to just 40.2 percent shooting from the field including a dismal 28.6 percent from three-point territory. The Clippers connected on 14 three-pointers and the Suns hit just 10 three-pointers.
The Suns got into a hole early in the game as the Clippers went up 31-23 at the end of the first quarter.
Ayton and his squad got into a little groove in the second quarter, but the Clippers still went ahead 54-44 at the half.
The third quarter belonged to the Clippers, outscoring the Suns 36-25 to go up 90-69 at the end of three. It was a foregone conclusion from there as the Clippers cruised to a 120-99 victory.
In Ayton’s first game of the season against fellow Bahamian Chavano “Buddy” Hield and the Sacramento King back on October 23, he had a strong outing. He scored 18 points, pulled down 11 boards, swatted four shots and shot a blistering 64.3 percent from the field in a 124-95 dominant victory for the Suns.
He was suspended shortly afterwards.
Ayton played in 73 games last year, missing nine games due to sickness and injury. He sprained his left ankle on March 30 against the Grizzlies, missing the Suns’ final five games of the regular season, but came back healthy and ready to go this season.
As a rookie, Ayton averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He was the only rookie in the league to average a double-double, and was just the third player in the league in the past decade to average a double-double in their rookie seasons, joining NBA All-Star players Blake Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns. Ayton was also voted to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and finished with one of the highest field goal percentages among rookies in the history of the league. He led the Suns in rebounding and was second on the team in field goal percentage and third in scoring.
Ayton led all rookies in rebounding and field goal percentage among those with at least 300 attempts, was fourth in scoring and seventh in blocked shots (0.9 per contest). He was 10th in the entire league in field goal percentage, 13th in rebounding and 54th in scoring. On October 27 last year, he recorded 24 points on near-perfect shooting (12-of-13) along with eight rebounds and five assists in a 117-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. With that performance, the former University of Arizona Wildcats player became just the second rookie in 40 seasons (first being Adam Keefe) to have at least 12 shots with a 90 percent or higher field goal percentage.
The Bahamian and his Suns return to action tomorrow night when they head to Oklahoma City to play Steven Adams and the Oklahoma City Thunder at 8 p.m.