Deandre Ayton had one of the loudest dunks in Suns history on Tuesday night to seal a Game Two win over the Clippers, 104-103, to take a 2-0 series lead.
For the first few minutes of the game, the Suns struggled to score. They didn’t want to put the ball in Devin Booker’s hands, likely so as to not tire him out right away and also to avoid Patrick Beverley (who surprisingly started). Booker missed his first two shots.
On the other end, the Clippers scored a few early points to take an 8-2 lead, but seemed to suffer from miscommunication. Ivica Zubac missed a lob from Marcus Morris that led to a turnover, and Reggie Jackson’s ultra green light led to some bad misses early on.
Phoenix took advantage by running off Clippers’ misses, and got down the floor for a 9-0 run, including five from Cam Payne.
A moment later, Patrick Beverley earned his second foul and then Jae Crowder forced a jump ball that got physical and ended in technical fouls on both Crowder and Marcus Morris. Not to be a homer, but the foul on Crowder was complete nonsense. He did nothing.
Terance Mann checked in for Beverley.
As new starting center Ivica Zubac continued to play with inconsistent effort and focus for L.A., the Suns smartly went after him. The result was an absolutely filthy smash by Deandre Ayton:
Crowder picked up his second foul right after, on a bang-bang blocking foul. Monty Williams challenged it, but lost, and Crowder stayed on the floor. Booker joined in the fun, picking up his second as well, on an illegal screen. He also stayed on the floor.
All the physicality made for a low-scoring first period, but the Suns led, 25-22, after one. Ayton had 12 and five in the first alone.
The second period brought chaos. DeMarcus Cousins got in the game, along with an all-bench lineup from Ty Lue. For the most part, Cousins didn’t do much damage, and Dario Saric held his own. There was also a lot of Rajon Rondo.
At the 8-ish minute mark, both Booker and Paul George re-entered the game, after six points from each side. Booker answered with a nice pull-up three.
But otherwise, Booker was remarkably quiet, starting the game 2-9 with five turnovers Iafter a magical Game One. With Beverley out there fighting over screens, the Clippers’ drop coverage with Zubac worked much better than it did on Sunday, when Booker dissected it.
The slugfest second quarter ended mercifully with the Suns up, 48-47, with Payne dropping in a quiet 16 to lead the Suns.
The fight continued to start the third, as officials reviewed a hard foul by Beverley on Payne to see if it was a flagrant, then George drew an iffy foul to get to the line with a chance to tie the game. George missed the second, but the Clippers snared the offensive rebound, then another, drawing a foul on Ayton in the process.
Lue called a timeout after another Payne bucket, giving him seven of the Suns’ first 11 points of the period.
The Suns continued to score on the pick-and-roll, with Payne setting up Ayton consistently in addition to getting buckets himself. But L.A.’s shooting kept them in the game. As the Clippers got more desperate, Beverley got more aggressive, ultimately fouling Booker in semi-transition as the two hit heads and Booker fell to the ground.
Beverly & Booker bonk heads pic.twitter.com/ZH7yoDKV6c— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) June 23, 2021
The play was reviewed and again deemed a common foul, but Booker went to the locker room with a towel to his face to stop the bleeding from the collision. Beverley soon followed, though it was hard to tell whether it was his blood or Booker’s on his jersey.
Ouch. Beverley and Booker bumped heads and both of them got pretty banged up. pic.twitter.com/LfwLCrmYnR— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) June 23, 2021
By the start of the fourth, Booker was back on the floor, and Beverley was on the Clippers’ bench. Lue started the period small, with Batum at center and George at the 4, with Luke Kennard out there for some shooting, which he gave right away with a three.
That back and forth kept up, with Kennard and Jackson hitting big shots while the Suns threatened to run away with it.
Beverley rejoined the action around the 7-minute mark, and got right back to swarming Booker.
The Suns kept their lead thanks to some savvy play by Booker to get to the line — even with a swollen nose. Booker had seven free throw attempts in the fourth, which allowed him to continue to score even as his shot wasn’t falling.
After a timeout with 3:09 to go, Mikal Bridges finally broke a dry spell with a massive triple from the top of the, but George responded with his own. Then Ayton hit a nice hook, and Zubac did the same on the other end. Play stopped after a Payne layup because the two centers fought for a loose ball and the referees didn’t see who it went out on, initially calling a loose ball before reviewing the play and giving possession to the Clippers.
Then there was another review on a potential foul on Booker, but nothing was actually called at first, until after the review, when Booker picked up his fourth personal.
Play was stopped... no foul was called... and it's under review pic.twitter.com/O2DFgoSYzW— The Bright Side (@BrightSideSun) June 23, 2021
Booker quickly picked up his fifth with 0:56 left on another questionable drawn foul by George, who made both free throws to bring the Clippers within one, 100-99.
On the other end, Payne tried to attack Kennard, but the Clippers rotated well and Zubac ended up with a block at the rim, which led to a quick George bucket to give L.A. a lead.
In another play that will haunt the Clippers’ dreams, Booker again got to his patented elbow jumper and reclaimed the lead, 102-101, with 0:27 to go.
That also gave the Suns a 2-for-1 opportunity, which they needed because George responded with a bucket as well.
PAUL GEORGE ANSWERS FOR THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/WYftWGVgSs— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) June 23, 2021
Beverley deflected the ball the next time down, it tipped off Booker’s finger, and Beverley begged for a review that ended up giving the Clippers possession. Give credit to Lue, he unexpectedly went to Beverley to start and it made a huge difference.
On the inbounds, George went for the Hail Mary in the backcourt and was fouled, but missed both free throws, keeping the L.A. lead at just one.
The Suns got an open corner three for Bridges after a timeout, and the rebound bounced out of bounds with 0.9 seconds left. It stayed with the Suns.
On the final play of the game, with Crowder inbounding from the far baseline, Monty called an incredible set to free Ayton up for a lob over Zubac to win the game:
THE JAY TRIANO PLAY
DEANDRE AYTON‼️— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) June 23, 2021
WHAT A PLAY‼️ pic.twitter.com/pG4yD2iab0
The Clippers had 0.7 seconds left afterward, after an eternity of adjustments and Lue putting both Cousins and Zubac in the game as screeners. Batum inbounded to George, who caught it without enough time to put up a shot.
Suns won, 104-103, in one of the biggest and best games in the history of the franchise.