The country’s two most high-profiled basketball players locked horns for the final time in the 2019-2020 National Basketball Association (NBA) season on Wednesday, and the stakes were high in terms of playoff positioning and head-to-head competition.
Erasing a 21-point third quarter deficit, Chavano “Buddy” Hield and the Sacramento Kings won a pivotal game in Phoenix, Arizona, taking down fellow Bahamian DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns. They prevailed 114-103 on Tuesday night, jumping a couple spots in the standings in the Western Conference.
The Kings now have a 15-23 win-loss record and are 11th in the west, while the Suns slipped to 14-23 and are 13th. A total of six teams, including both the Kings and Suns, are separated by just two games in the west, battling for the final playoff spot.
As for Hield and Ayton, they both turned in strong performances. Hield was 5-for-11 from the floor and 4-for-7 from distance. He finished with 16 points, three rebounds and two assists, ending a string of six straight games with 20 or more points. Ayton finished a rebound short of his fourth straight double-double. He had 21 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the floor and added nine rebounds, two assists and a block. Ayton scored 14 of those points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first half to go along with eight first-half rebounds.
With the win, the Kings evened the season series at two games apiece, and Hield pulled even in the head-to-head battle with Ayton at three wins apiece.
Speedy point guard De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 27 points on 9-for-21 shooting. He added six assists and four rebounds. Nemanja Bjelica scored 19, and Hield contributed 16. Devin Booker paced the Suns with a game-high 34 points on 12-for-21 shooting. He added seven assists and four rebounds. Ayton had 21 and Kelly Oubre Jr. dropped in 17. For Booker, it was his seventh straight game of scoring 30 or more points, extending a franchise record.
The game was tied at 53 at the half but the Suns started the second half on an 18-2 scoring run and pushed their advantage to 21 points. After they took an 83-62 lead with 4:25 remaining in the third, the Kings came alive, closing the quarter on a 16-4 run to cut the lead to single digits and get back in the game.
The Kings continued the surge, taking the lead at the 8:03 mark of the fourth on a breakaway dunk from Bjelica. It was their first lead since late in the second quarter. Moments later, Bjelica hit a 31-foot three-point jumper to give the Kings a 95-93 lead, and they never trailed again.
Hield and the Kings won for the third time in their last four games after losing a season-high eight in a row. As for Ayton and the Suns, they suffered their third loss in their last four games.
Hield and the Kings were playing the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Golden State Warriors, 111-98, on Monday. For the season, Hield, 27, is averaging 20.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in a career-high 34.2 minutes per game. He is shooting 41.4 percent from the floor and 37.2 percent from distance – both career-low numbers.
In just seven games this season, Ayton, 21, is logging 30.9 minutes per game, and is averaging 15.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. He is shooting 53.2 percent from the floor.
Hield and the Kings now return home for a three-game set. They will host the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, on Friday. That game is set for a 10 p.m. start.
Ayton and the Suns will continue their five-game homestand when they host the Orlando Magic at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix on Friday. That game is set for a 9 p.m. start.