Sports

Ayton’s late ‘Valley-oop’ propels Sun to 2-0 lead

Bahamian DeAndre Ayton came up huge late in the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, throwing down a game-winning alley-oop dunk, dubbed the “Valley-oop”, to lift the Phoenix Suns to a 104-103 victory. The clutch play came with 0.7 seconds left on the clock in game two in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and gave the Suns a 2-0 lead in the series.

That game wrapped up a two-game homestand at the Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. Games three and four are set for the Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the Clippers.

Ayton showed why he was the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft in 2018, finishing the game with 24 points and 14 rebounds. He shot 12-for-15 from the field for a blistering 80 percent on the night. He also had an assist, a steal and a block in 35 minutes of play.

The “Valley-oop” had a number of NBA players reacting on Twitter. One of those was fellow Bahamian Chavano “Buddy” Hield, the starting shooting guard of the Sacramento Kings. He posted: “Ayton for Da win”, with the Bahamian flag icon. Ayton’s shot was the number one trending topic on the popular social media app.

It was Ayton’s fifth postseason game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, and his eighth double-double in 12 games in his first career postseason in the NBA. The big man is the first player in the shot-clock era (1954-present day) to shoot 70 percent or higher from the field in a 12-game postseason span. In addition, he has the most games (five) in Suns history with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 65 percent shooting from the field in the playoffs. Charles Barkley did it over four games in 1993. Ayton spoke about what playing in the playoffs is like.

“I’ve never played so hard from the jump ball to the end, 150 percent,” Ayton stated. “Usually, it’s like 110, but it’s 150 percent now, and it’s 150 percent mentally. Just the level of focus on things you have to really pay attention to, it’s really intense. With fatigue and stuff like that kicking in, that’s when you know who’s really got your back, who’s locked in and this team is it.”

Filling in for veteran guard Chris Paul who remains in the league’s health and safety protocols, due to COVID-19, Cameron Payne led the Suns with a game-high 29 points. Paul George had 26 points for the Clippers.

After George missed two free throws with 8.2 seconds left in the game, the Suns got the rebound and called a timeout. The Clippers held a slim 103-102 lead at this point. Coming out of the timeout, Ayton’s teammate Mikal Bridges missed a corner three-pointer, but the ball went out of bounds off the Clippers with 0.9 left on the clock.

With the officials reviewing how much time remained on the shot clock, Suns head coach Monty Williams used that time to get his team into a huddle and draw up the play for Ayton.

“D.A. (Ayton), if he throws it, you got to try and dunk it,” Williams said in the huddle.

Ayton was on the elbow and came off a good screen by Devin Booker to create enough separation from Clippers center Ivica Zubac. Jae Crowder saw the movement and threw a perfect inbounds lob pass to the Bahamian who completed the alley-oop dunk to give his team the 104-103 lead.

The University of Arizona product, who was clad in his Bahamian chain at the press conference after the game, gave Crowder most of the credit for the play.

“Well, I’ll start off by saying that’s definitely Jae’s (Crowder) game winner, making a great pass over a seven-footer. Other than that, coach drew up a great play where I was in the best position, my teammates trust me and my coaches trust me. Book (Booker) set a great screen that freed me up into the lane to at least gather my feet and go up for the ball, and the rest is just off my athleticism and my talent. Jae set it up right there perfectly,” Ayton said.

“Man, Zubac is pretty strong. Like (New Orleans Pelicans center) Steven 

Adams, he is pretty strong and a big dude as well. That’s why I gave so much props to Book to really set a good screen on a guy like him, a paint protector and just really finding a good angle and then to free me up, all my respect goes out to Book and Jae for that play.”

The series now shifts to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, for the next two games with the first one being played tonight. The Clippers have been in 0-2 holes twice in these playoffs but it will be an uphill climb without their leader Kawhi Leonard who is out with a sprained right knee. There is no 

telling if he will be back at any point in the series. Ayton said he is not taking any chances and will prepare to play at 150 percent.

“It’s going to get harder. Those dudes are going to come out even stronger, more physicality and they’re going to attack us. We just got to be prepared for anything. We just have to play our basketball. Once we do that, we’ll be fine. Play our pace, and the main thing is our defense. Once we stay focused on the defensive end, it’ll work on the offensive end. Offense will come,” Ayton said.

The game tonight gets underway at 9 o’clock and will be televised on ESPN.

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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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