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Postgame Report: Ayton, Payne and Crowder break down keys to Suns’ opening win in Conference Finals

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The Suns had multiple players step up with starting point guard Chris Paul unavailable

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what Phoenix Suns starting center Deandre Ayton, point guard Cameron Payne and forward Jae Crowder said after their team’s 120-114 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on Sunday afternoon.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Deandre Ayton

On what allowed him to play effectively against the Clippers’ smaller lineup:

“Y’all got to understand, I played Pac-12 basketball. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a [7-footer] in the Pac-12 conference. So I always played the four in college and switching on them guards and guards wanting to beat my feet. But I train, I train at this, I train my lateral quickness and I trust my defensive feet and hands. Like I said, the league is changing. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like calling myself a big man because I love to get out and guard on the perimeter as well, running after guards and stuff like that. It’s just a part of the game that I really emphasize for myself.”

On where he would rank starting shooting guard Devin Booker’s performance among those he’s seen:

“You can’t rank it. This is Game 1… you can’t rank it. So all you can do is just, I don’t know, just got to wait. Everybody’s got to have their popcorn ready. Just be ready.”

On how starting forward Mikal Bridges helped the Suns finish the game:

“Mikal does a lot. Like I said, he guards the best players night in and night out. Just seeing how he kept his poise and kept his head together throughout the game, sacrificing some shots to even create for others is big time. We play in rhythm, and it eventually got to him and he took advantage of it. I think he left with a big bang, reading the defense and what it did. He took it on, knocking down some huge shots in the corner for us and just making plays with the ball.”

On seeing his son before the game on Father’s Day:

“I was so amped up. I think (starting point guard) Chris Paul was the first one to text me that morning. That’s the first, ‘Happy Father’s Day,’ I’ve gotten. And I was wondering — I looked at my phone, I glanced at it, it was like seven in the morning. I was like, ‘Is this for me?’ I had to read the whole message and say, ‘Oh yeah, bro, you are a father.’ And stuff like that. So just embracing that feeling is a lot, and it was game day, my first [Western Conference Finals]. I had to go all out. Honestly, it’s a great day and I’m just honored, being with this organization and going through what I’m going through now.”

On how he watches film now compared to his rookie season:

“As a rookie, I was just really scared of the match up. Like, ‘OK, I’m going against him, what am I going to do?’ Not really just come in here, ‘Oh, I’m going to stop him, I’m about to play such and such.’ But now, it’s just me locking into his tendencies. Whoever I’m playing against, knowing what they like to do, knowing what’s uncomfortable, making them uncomfortable. And just playing hard and physical throughout the whole game. Making them work as well on the offensive end when I’m there, and just really being a presence on both ends of the floor, no matter what.”

On adjusting without Paul on the floor this postseason:

“We faced a lot of adversity with injuries and stuff like that. But (Phoenix Suns coach) Monty (Williams) is a coach who, man knows how to encounter adversity. I don’t know how, but he just knows. And he makes us feel comfortable with the change. And the thing he does best is just communicating the things we do best, and just stick to that throughout the season. That’s what we’re doing now throughout the playoffs. So we really haven’t changed the way we play, and we approach the game the right way. And we practice, we play hard and we’re always on each other. Somebody can’t get away with anything on this team. We work hard and it leads to wins like this.”

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Payne

On stepping up as the Suns’ starting point guard without Paul available:

“It was actually fun. The atmosphere was crazy. I really just feel like I miss playing. We took a long little break, and it just felt good being out there, back there on the court and getting the [W]. Still praying for C, hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible. But I’m glad we got that [W] for him, and just looking forward to getting him back.”

On how he assessed the Suns’ ball movement as the game progressed:

“Honestly, it was just getting into the paint. I had to find a way to get into the paint, and once I came to the paint, they really helped a lot. I had got a couple quick baskets, so they were coming over to contest those [layups]. And in the corner of my eyes, I just seen a big, black jersey, I’m throwing it to him. And those plays were just opening up for us every time I got into the paint, so I just tried to keep doing that, keep trying to be aggressive.”

On Booker recording two turnovers individually:

“He played outstanding. One of our keys today was take care of the ball. We know the Clippers are good defensively with their hands, and one of the things me and him talked about before the game was, ‘We got to take care of the ball. No turnovers, try to keep the turnovers down as if C were in the game, as if C was here. And we knew from the jump that if we took care of the ball, we would have a good opportunity, good chance tonight in the game. But man, Book played outstanding. He kept his poise, he got to his spots. He did his thing.”

On having to prepare for starting without Paul:

“For real, I didn’t look at I was starting until yesterday. I was just like, ‘Man, I’m going to hold it down until C gets back.’ I still got that mindset, I’m just trying to hold it down until my man back. I really didn’t do anything out the ordinary, tried to get some extra workouts in. But outside of that, follow the game plan, just like I said, hold it down until C gets back.”

On communication with Paul before and after the game:

“He said, ‘The game’s going to be hectic. Keep your poise.’ That was the first thing he told me. He called me yesterday (and) he said, ‘The game going to get hectic, don’t worry about it, be poised.’ He was like, ‘I know y’all ain’t played in a long time, the crowd going to be crazy.’ He was like, ‘But be poised, get on to the next play.’ The thing about C, it’s not so much him out there hooping, his communication is outstanding. And we sit down and listen to him — he’s been here before. So he’s a [Hall of Famer], we got to listen to him. He got the knowledge, so we sit there, listen to him. That’s the only thing honestly today we missed, he wasn’t talking.”

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jae Crowder

On Booker’s 40-point triple double:

“He did a great job of just controlling the game. I felt like he did a good job of playing point, playing on the ball tonight and making reads. They threw a lot of different coverages at him, and he was poised and a lot of guys was able to make plays off of his double teams and off of his playmaking. So it was great.”

On adjustments the Suns made throughout the game without Paul available:

“I mean really, it’s tough to put in measurement what Chris does for our ball club because he’s the head of the snake, he’s the one who’s putting everybody in position. So we just did a lot of that stuff on the fly. It was a little different, but we got the hang of it. Especially by halftime, we came in and got to regroup a little bit. Saw a few things, but we definitely missed him. I think the last three minutes of that game, that’s when we felt like, ‘Where the hell is Chris at?’ That’s the point where he’s that guy, he’s that guy to make the play for everybody, he’s that guy to put us in position. And especially with a lead or down, we depend on him to make those plays, especially late in the game. So I think he was felt more that last 3:30 of the game.”

On what he thought of starting center Deandre Ayton’s performance against the Clippers’ smaller lineup:

“We’ve been preparing for that. Obviously last series, they (the Denver Nuggets) did a lot of small-ball lineups and we just told him, ‘Dominate the paint.’ Let everything else take care of itself, dominate the paint, fly around on defense and he did exactly that. Made those guys adjust a bit, but I’m sure — that’s a good ball club. They have good players, so they’re going to have a lot of different lineups, a lot of different scenarios and throughout the game, we got to just adjust.”

On how he felt about the Suns’ communication on their defensive switches:

“We’ve been practicing for a few days, we knew it was going to be loud in here so our communication had to be ten [times higher]. It had to be on point throughout the whole night, and that’s what I hang my hat on as one of the leaders of the team. Obviously, I got the scouting report very well and I just wanted to put my teammates in position to be successful and put myself in position. So I was just trying to do my part, especially with [Paul] out. He does a great job communicating at both ends of the court, and I knew I just had to pick it up a little bit since one of our leaders was out. But Deandre did a great job of just reacting. He had a few missed coverages but we expect that. He’s getting put in some situations that he’s not used to. They’re just trying to bring him out on the perimeter a lot, but he did a good job of just being active and still coming back and boarding. So it was great.”

On FaceTiming Paul in the locker room after the game:

“Chris was excited, but he was holding up this (one finger). It was one game, we did what we was supposed to do. We held it down, we made plays on both ends of the court. He was just very excited, he had a smile on his face. But he’s eager to get back, obviously. Everyone knows what type of player he is — he’s ready to get back out here with us, and we got to continue to just take care of the uncertainty and come in each and every day and be prepared as much as possible with or without him.”

On responding as a team after Clippers forward Paul George got hot in the third quarter:

“We just responded to it. Those guys went on a run, but we know basketball is a game of runs and we just prepare for whatever. But we know when the other team goes on a run, we’ve been saying it all series, all playoffs, you got to respond. Whether it be a stop, getting a stop on defense, or whether it be getting a good shot on the offensive end. But I think we did a great job of just trying to limit those runs as much as possible on their side, and whenever they did go on a run — obviously, they got some heck of a players over there — when they go on a run, we got to respond to it.”

On the caliber of the teams remaining in the playoffs and how the Suns stack up within that:

“I mean, I’d rather be on a full team than top-heavy. I’ve been on both sides of it, I’ve saw it, I’ve played with it, I’ve been a part of it. But it’s much easier for everything to start clicking, especially this time of the year when you got a full roster. So whenever you tap that hand and sub out of the game, you know the guy that’s coming in is going to give it his all. You know it’s no big let downs when you sub out the game for our team, one through five, five through 15. So it’s great to be a part of, to be a part of something special and everybody pushing for the same goal instead of being a super team and just being top-heavy or whatever it is and trying to see where the chips fall. But it’s great to be a part of a full team, we got a real team.”