“Shaq continues to sing your praises,” Charles Barkley says in TNT’s pregame interview with Phoenix Suns 22-year old center Deandre Ayton.
You can tell that really meant something to Ayton. A lot of players in the league already think that their stuff doesn’t stink but Ayton will take that positive feedback to heart. The teary eyes of nervousness and youth should make every Suns fan smile. It was a great way to start the game and anytime you can get action from Ayton on the mic, it makes for an event and can fill you with wonder.
A better performance in game 2 after a great performance in game 1 against the Denver Nuggets might pay tribute to the pregame compliments.
Here is my latest running journal of Ayton’s body language and impact on a game, as it unfolds.
Ayton vs Jokic: Game 2
The foul game cut Ayton from the script early in game two- or it should have. Suns Coach Monty Williams keeps him in with two early fouls. Physicality that was not yet set in the first quarter for Ayton may lead to a more hesitant first half as he remains in the game.
But my words did not matter. On the next possession Ayton was able to get to the free-throw line on an attempt at the rim.
Ayton kept the body away from Jokic on defense. Hands are up and his distraction in the paint made things a little more difficult for Denver. Great defense is a given from Ayton, even with two fouls, ambitious defense was still on display. Towards the other end on offense, the attempts at the rim continued. Make or miss, the confidence was high for him. Rim running at its finest.
4:00 left in the 1st quarter and Dario Saric gives Ayton a rest.
7:06 left in the 2nd quarter and Ayton is back, giving Saric a smoke break
Falling into the quicksand of turnovers with the rest of the Suns team, Ayton was unable to put up with the frantic defense of Denver, turning the ball over for the third time. He began twirling around with Jokic and was unable to stop a floater that only Jokic can make.
Sometime all you can do is face Jokic up and hope for the best. Many players will tell you their story against The Joker this season and most are looking forward to retirement. Ayton understands the struggle and will give up the shots when necessary.
The mission for the rest of the half was to avoid the 3rd foul and to grab the rebounds.
Mission accomplished for Ayton ending the half with just the two fouls.
“WAM0!” The great Al McCoy welcomed me back into my car after I had to run an errand. Ayton throws it down on the feed from Paul.
The lead for the Suns escalated to 19 and the energy continued to build as Ayton was attacking the ball and taking what was his.
A comeback was brewing by Denver and Ayton stood and watched for one play on defense giving up an easy layup, but was able to follow with a layup of his own and shot deterrence on the defensive end.
The body of Jokic made its way inside more than he was welcomed and it became a tipping match between him and Ayton for the rebounds. Almost the end of the 3rd quarter and Ayton was starting to look tired. Some more standing and hesitation to react on defense.
The body of Ayton is now taking the punishment he has trained for all year, and to go the distance in a playoff game against the league MVP is the round leading up to the knockout.
1:19 left in the 3rd quarter and Ayton gets a well deserved rest for the rest of the game.
The Suns end up blowing out the Nuggets in the 4th quarter keeping Ayton on the bench and ready for Fridays game 3.
Pregame compliments or not helping to raise his game even higher, Ayton deserves the A+ tonight. All credit goes to #22.
It isn’t about the dramatic play, but the way he is able to help his team win in the spotlight. Shrugging off the three turnovers early in the game, the motor was turned on and put into the next gear in the second half.
All of the spotlight on the big men this series is a LOT of pressure, and the third year big man lived up to expectations again. Kevin O’Connor from The Ringer is most likely putting together another Ayton video to continue the praise.