Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, 22, fired while the Sacramento Kings defended Tyrese Haliburton (0) in defense in the first half of an NBA basketball game on Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo / Matt York)
PHOENIX – Phoenix Suns are a great team. This is the basis. It’s right there in front of you.
But if you look closely, you will see that additional layers and supporting pieces are added to this base in the second half of the season. This has been crucial for the contenders over the last two months, continuing to improve before the games that really matter start.
The biggest addition the Suns could make was the improved Deandre Ayton and that̵
Ayton had 10 of his 26 points and four of 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter and didn’t even register until 4:57 left. After Sacramento fell to four at this point, Ayton scored on a pass from Devin Booker, an insulting bounce two possessions later and two free throws later on two free throws.
This caused Phoenix to lead by eight with 2:36, and the Kings decided that Ayton’s only other potential response was small. The next trip down to the Suns, Ayton grabbed another Suns pass to shoot free throws. With a seven-point lead and less than two minutes away, Phoenix went to Ayton in office, and Ayton delivered a jumper that effectively ended the game.
“I was really happy to be DA to be the man along the way,” said head coach Monty Williams.
The Kings stayed close to the game almost all night, thanks to the night under the defense of Phoenix below average and some good shots all the time. Sacramento’s defense was terrible at some stages and the Suns shot 55.8% overnight to oppose 55.1% of the Kings, with 14 scoring three points for each team. In a way, I felt like another game in which the Suns played both down and until their race.
While Ayton did it offensively, he and the defense were given key stops to keep the Kings far enough away until the big boy finished the game on the other side.
“We just won,” Williams said. “We’ll look at that at the end of the season – it’s not going to be a lot of a win or an ugly win, it’s just a win and I’m glad we got it.”
Ayton was 10-of-11 from the field, checking those fields for activity on the attacking glass and doing his part in defense like an anchor. Booker added 23 points, while it was another strong night for the bench with 42 points overall. Jevon Carter led there with 13 points, while starting Chris Paul gave away 11 assists to go with 13 points.
De’Aaron Fox of Sacramento (27 points) and Buddy Hill (24) combined for 51 points.
To return to the topic of the evolution of the team in the regular season, here’s what Paul had to say when asked, given the postseason, what it means for Ayton to have moments like Thursday when he was the “man” down:
“I think it’s great for all of us. “These games here just build trust and build trust,” Paul said. “It comes down to the playoffs. Sometimes you will go to a play or you will go to a person (s) they may make or miss a shot, but one thing in it is trust.
“It’s trust, and when you have games like all the guys on our team, you’re just building trust right now, so when you get to those moments, you live with what’s going on.”
And here’s what Ayton had to say when asked about building that trust lately:
“After the match I’m in the locker room, I just whispered [Paul] and I gave him a punch – I said, “I appreciate you trusting my G,” Ayton said. “I just trust me, knowing that your teammate believes in you. (Paul said) take your time. [Paul] teach me down to be ready.
“As I start to go down, the teams start to adjust and start to double, so he just wants to spend time on long stretches and see the game. Sometimes I just fight with the clock instead of trying to score every time. I’m just studying aspects of the game and what’s important and what to look for during a crisis. “
Imagine a Suns team in the postseason that can turn to Ayton down if needed. This is a thought that will make Suns fans salivate, while it will eventually be a shocking, disturbing development for the rest of the league.