PHOENIX – Deandre Ayton couldn’t stop smiling after the Phoenix Suns’ 104-103 win on Tuesday gave them a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference final against the LA Clippers.
The tall man wore a permagrin as he basked in the joy of dipping the go-ahead bucket home at the last second of the game and one of the most dramatic alley-oops in NBA playoff history finished but he didn’t want any of the credit.
“I’ll start by saying that this is definitely Jae [Crowder’s] Game winner who makes a great pass for a 7-foot player, “said Ayton after his dunk lifted his last line to 24 points on 12v15 shoots and 14 rebounds with 0.7 seconds to go.
Apparently, no one wanted the solo spotlight on the Suns as the franchise has only had two wins since 1993 after making its first appearance in the finals.
Not Suns trainer Monty Williams for drafting the piece. He said he stole pieces of game books from former Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown and former Phoenix coach Joe Prunty to cobble together the idea.
“I wish I were so intelligent,” he said, “but I am not.”
Not point guard Cameron Payne, who initially kept it so close by scoring the top 29 points of his career while standing up for Chris Paul, along with nine assists and zero fluctuations.
“I’m just trying to hold it until CP is back,” he said.
Not Suns star Devin Booker, who played with a puffy face and crooked nose after getting a headbutt from Patrick Beverley in the third quarter that made him bloody and required three stitches. He set the screen on the Clippers 7 foot, 240 pound Ivica Zubac to open Ayton for that final throw.
“It feels better now,” he said afterwards through his nose, unsure whether it was broken. “If we lost it would hurt a little more I think. It’s good.”
And not crowder for the pass. He didn’t even speak to reporters afterwards when he would have asked questions about his pinpoint delivery of the ball from his position on the baseline and over the basket so Ayton could catch it.
“He put it where only prosecutors could get it,” Williams said of Crowder. “There was a great awareness of him.”
It was a team win for the team that was as complete as any other during the 2021 playoffs, even though Paul was absent from the conference finals so far due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
Williams said the posture Phoenix displayed ahead of the contest – one already dubbed “The Valley Oop” by NBA TV’s Matt Winer – is what really gave the suns a chance.
Because before they did the alley oop, they had to block the missed chance to advance with 9.3 seconds to go when Booker, with Beverley draped all over him, lost the ball.
And then, with Paul George missing two free throws 8.2 seconds to go, the Suns Mikal Bridges had to secure the defensive rebound to give Phoenix the final possession to score the final flush.
“It’s just one of those things that happens where you’re just grateful,” said Williams. “Our boys’ willingness to stick with it. I thought we didn’t play great tonight but we played enough to win the game.”
Meanwhile, the Clippers have failed to capitalize on a takeaway game and are now 2-0 down for a third straight run this postseason.
“This game, I’ve played a lot of games in this league, this one is tough,” said Beverley, who started game two. “This one goes up there. This game is hard to swallow because you watch this game, I mean we won this game, you know.
“But we’ve been in the trenches before. We react well in the trenches. We will react well. We always do.”
The Clippers are already the only team in NBA history to overcome multiple 2-0 deficits and win in the same postseason. They lost the first two at home in the first round before beating Dallas in seven games, and they lost the first two in Utah before beating Jazz four times in a row.
“Well, with this team, we’re more confident, if anything,” said George. “We lost 0-2 in every series, we gave two wins to the other team.”
Without the injured Kawhi Leonard for a fourth straight game due to a sprained right knee, George again led the Clippers and positioned them to steal Game 2 on the road. He scored 26 points and had six rebounds and six assists. George scored nine of his points in the final 2:41 to make up a seven point gap in the fourth quarter.
But with a chance to give them a three-point lead with 8.2 seconds to go, George surprisingly missed both free throws, despite scoring 89.2% off the free-throw line this postseason.
“I’m not going to put too much on it,” said George afterwards. “Of course it was a missed opportunity. Pat played an incredible game that put me in the position to extend the lead. I am always confident on the free-throw line. Line.”
Clippers coach Ty Lue said George shouldn’t be blamed for that loss.
“He’s fine,” said Lue. “It’s part of the game. It happens. It’s not his fault. Without him we wouldn’t be in the game anyway. We played some big games on the track and they ended up playing a big game to win the game. ” “
A great game Ayton said of, typical of the kind of sacrifices the Suns regularly made for one another in their pursuit of mastery.
“We don’t know who will fall 30, we don’t know who will score the winner. That’s the team,” he said. “We play for each other and the most important thing we do is togetherness. We try not to break that.”
ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.