Ayton’s emergence has Suns a win from the NBA Finals

Jun 27, 2021, 4:04 AM | Updated: 4:40 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — Deandre Ayton is rapidly become the player the Phoenix Suns imagined when the ping-pong balls bounced their way for the 2018 NBA draft.

The third-year center was in top form Saturday in a hard-fought 84-80 Game 4 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 19 points, grabbed a playoff career-high 22 rebounds, blocked four shots, and was generally the only person on the floor who could put the ball in the basket with any kind of consistency.

Now the Suns have a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals and are one win from a trip to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

Game 5 is on Monday in Phoenix.

“I thought Deandre’s presence, his effort, the rebounding, shot blocking, his communication on defense, switching out on smaller guys and being able to guard them, he was the catalyst on the defensive end,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I thought it was an unreal performance from him. Our guys rallied around him.”

Williams added of Ayton: “Every possession he’s playing like his life depends on it.”

There have certainly been some growing pains for the No. 1 overall pick out of Arizona. His rookie year was decent, though his effort on the defensive end was sometimes inconsistent. His second year was marred by a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s Anti-Drug policy after testing positive for a diuretic.

It was easy to wonder if the Suns had made the right choice.

Now there’s not much concern. The 22-year-old has already had one of the iconic moments in Suns playoff basketball history when he dunked an alley-oop pass from Jae Crowder with 0.7 seconds left to win Game 2 last week.

It was another example of Ayton’s newfound confidence and tenacity.

“I learned I could keep going,” Ayton said. “There’s another level — I learned that. I think I reached the next level that I really need to be at, at this level when it comes to competing.”


There’s little doubt that the Clippers have missed the presence of Kawhi Leonard. The All-Star forward has missed six straight games due to a sprained right knee after he averaged 30.4 points in the postseason.

He’ll miss a seventh straight game on Monday.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Leonard would remain in Los Angeles while Game 5 is played in Phoenix. Lue hasn’t given much clue as to when — or if — Leonard might return during the postseason.


Chris Paul’s return after missing two games in the league’s COVID-19 protocol was supposed to be a big boost for the Suns’ offense.

So far that hasn’t been the case. The Suns scored just 92 points in Game 3 and 84 in Game 4.

Devin Booker hasn’t been as productive since his broken nose suffered on a head-to-head collision with LA’s Patrick Beverley in Game 2. Booker wore a plastic mask over his face in Game 3 and part of Game 4 before ditching it after he missed a layup.

“I didn’t think the shots were bad yesterday,” Williams said. “We just had so many shots go in and out, in and out. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that many in a game. I think both those guys — they’ve got multiple defenders on them, they’re being blitzed at times, they’re being switched onto. It’s the playoffs.”

Williams said the Suns’ intense defense has allowed them to take a 3-1 lead. But he knows a few shots need to drop, too.

“I’m hoping we see an offensive explosion soon,” Williams said.


Without Leonard in the lineup, Clippers forward Paul George has had a huge role in the offense. He’s averaging 27.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists through four games in the Western Conference finals.

The problem is George is needing a lot of shots to get to those numbers. He’s shooting just 36% from the field, 28% from 3-point range and 70% from the free throw line, including a few late-game misses that have been crucial.

George was just 5 of 20 from the field in Game 4, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range. Fatigue could be a problem: George is playing more than 41 minutes per game in this series.

“You know, it’s just what it is. I feel good,” George said. “Not going to let that be an excuse or have something to fall back on. I feel good. When I’m out there, I feel good.”


More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The ski slopes are almost devoid of snow at the Tūroa ski field, on Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand on Se...
Associated Press

Missing snow puts famed New Zealand ski areas on precipice

TUROA SKI AREA, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s Turoa ski area is usually a white wonderland at this time of year, its deep snowpack supporting its famed spring skiing. This season, it’s largely a barren moonscape, with tiny patches of snow poking out between vast fields of jagged volcanic boulders. The ski area was […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Kansas City Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred in the seventh inning of a baseball game, May 1...
Associated Press

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, […]
22 hours ago
Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden goes up for a dunk during the first half of a preseason NBA basket...
Associated Press

Embiid, Harden begin as 76ers top Cavs in Mitchell’s debut

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid and James Harden were done with their preseason debuts long before Montrezl Harrell scored the go-ahead basket with 26 seconds left, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat Cleveland 113-112 on Wednesday night in Donovan Mitchell’s first game with the Cavaliers. Embiid had 12 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes before […]
22 hours ago
Central Florida coach Gus Malzahn, left, and SMU coach Rhett Lashlee talk before an NCAA college fo...
Associated Press

UCF scores 31 unanswered points, beats SMU in AAC opener

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — John Rhys Plumlee threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in the second half to Ryan O’Keefe, and UCF scored 31 unanswered points to beat SMU 41-19 on Wednesday night in a game postponed because of tropical weather. UCF trailed 13-10 at halftime before scoring four touchdowns in the […]
22 hours ago
New York Mets' Mark Vientos celebrates with James McCann (33) after they scored on a three-run home...
Associated Press

Mets prep for playoffs with 9-2 rout of Nationals

NEW YORK (AP) — After wrapping up a 101-win season with an easy romp, the New York Mets know their next challenge will be much tougher. Francisco Lindor and the Mets geared up for the playoffs with a 9-2 rout of the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, completing a fantastic regular season with the second-most victories […]
22 hours ago
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly waves to the crowd after a baseball game against the Atlanta Br...
Associated Press

Mattingly wins his last game as Marlins manager, tops Braves

MIAMI (AP) — Don Mattingly went out as a winner in his final game as Miami’s manager when rookie Peyton Burdick homered and drove in four runs to lead the Marlins over the NL East champion Atlanta Braves 12-9 on Wednesday. Matt Olson hit his 34th homer and Marcell Ozuna hit his 23rd for the […]
22 hours ago
Ayton’s emergence has Suns a win from the NBA Finals