Sports

Ayton, Suns win franchise record 63 games

Both Ayton and Hield notch double-doubles on Tuesday night

DeAndre Ayton notched a double-double and helped his team, the Phoenix Suns (63-16), pick up a franchise record 63rd regular season win at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday night, eliminating the Los Angeles Lakers (31-48) from the playoff race in the process. The Suns won 121-110.

Chavano “Buddy” Hield also had a double-double, producing it earlier that night for the Indiana Pacers (25-55) but it was not enough as they fell 131-122 to the Philadelphia 76ers (49-30) in their final home game of the season at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.

As for Ayton, he finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds on 10-for-14 shooting from the field. He was a perfect 2-for-2 from the free throw line and also had two assists and a block. The big man checked out of the game with 1:13 left in the third quarter with his team up 96-75 and didn’t return. He began celebrating the franchise record in the final moments of the game.

“All I could do the last five seconds of the game is tell everybody how much I appreciate them,” Ayton said. “There’s a lot more to go, but on this team, we celebrate everything.”

It was a tight game in the first half but Phoenix used a 29-9 scoring run in the third quarter to pull away. In that quarter, Ayton scored eight points, grabbing six rebounds and swatted his only shot of the night. At the end of that quarter, the Suns played their reserves who kept the Lakers from out of reach.

Before this victory, the 2021-2022 Suns’ 62 wins were tied for the most in franchise history with the 1992-1993 and 2004-2005 teams. With three games remaining in the season, the league-leading Suns can take it to 66 wins in their 53rd season.

It is a huge culture shift for Ayton who was drafted as the number one overall pick by the Suns in the 2018 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft. In the 2018-2019 season, they finished with a 19-63 win/loss record, and the following season they went to 34-39 before going 51-21 last season and advancing to the NBA Finals. This year, the bigger picture is obviously winning it all. They have the best record in the league.

The Suns were back in action last night, taking the Los Angeles Clippers (39-40) at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, but no score was available at press time. The Suns travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz on Friday night, and then host the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night to end the regular season. They will go into the playoffs as the number one seed in the west.

Hield showed that he is not all about the thee-point shot as he finished with a team-high 25 points, only connecting on three made treys. He went 11-for-19 from the field and added 11 rebounds and five assists for his first double-double of the season and just the eighth of his career. The Grand Bahama native is second in the league in made three-pointers this season with 255, trailing just Golden State Warriors’ guard Stephen Curry who has 285 made three-point shots.

The Pacers managed to keep the game close in the first quarter as the 76ers held a 33-31 at the end of the first 12 minutes of play. However, the 76ers turned it up a few gears in the second quarter as they dropped 49 points on the Pacers in that period to pull away. At the half, the 76ers led 82-59 and looked to have the game locked up.

In the second quarter, the 76ers shot a blistering 73.1 percent from the field, including 9-for-11 from deep – 81.8 percent from that distance.

A resilient Hield played all but two seconds of the third quarter, trying to get his team back into the game. They outscored the Sixers 40-25 in the third quarter, and Hield had 13 points in that quarter. They managed to pull within a respectable distance for the beginning of the fourth quarter as the 76ers led 107-99.

The Pacers tried to keep the game close early in the fourth quarter but the 76ers shook them off and went up by as much as 15 points. The 76ers held on for their 49th victory of the season, pulling into a three-way tie for second in the Eastern Conference of the NBA, and handed the Pacers their eighth straight loss in the process.

The Pacers have two more games remaining on the season, back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday. They will have a rematch against the 76ers at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The second game will be against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. That game tips off at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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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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