Book it: the ‘Valley-Oop.’
Asked about the moniker that dubbed his game-winning lob dunk in the Phoenix Suns’ 104-103 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, starting center Deandre Ayton gave his seal of approval.
“That’s tough,” Ayton said. “The Valley-Oop? I like that. I really like that.”
Ayton’s slam with 0.7 seconds remaining capped off a 24-point, 14-rebound night for him on 12-of-15 shooting as the Suns took a 2-0 series lead. It was his fifth 20-point, 10-rebound game this postseason and eighth double-double overall.
According to Statmuse, Ayton is just one game behind Suns legend Charles Barkley for the most games with at least 20 points on 65 percent shooting and 10 rebounds in a single playoff run. It’s an effort that Phoenix coach Monty Williams doesn’t take for granted.
“I thought he showed a lot of stamina tonight, physically too,” Williams said. “He was running hard and rebounding and (playing a) physical game. I could go on and on about where he was to where he is now. He’s just turning into a really dominant player on both ends of the floor.”
Here’s what Ayton had to say of the execution that led to his game-winning dunk, including an out-of-bounds pass from starting forward Jae Crowder and screen from starting shooting guard Devin Booker on Clippers center Ivica Zubac to free him for the finish.
On the difficulty of the pass that Crowder made to him for the lob finish and his catch:
“Well, I’ll start off by saying that’s definitely Jae’s game-winner, making a great pass over a 7-footer. Other than that, coach drew up a great play where I was in the best position, my teammates trust me and my coaches trust me. And Book set a great screen that freed me up into the lane to at least gather my feet and go up for the ball. And the rest is just off my athleticism and my talent. Jae set it up right there perfectly.”
On his work ethic since he met Williams:
“I can say this: Monty definitely made me a super gym rat. There was times where I wouldn’t even come on days off. There’s a thing called, ‘Smelling the gym, touch the ball,’ at least. And he really instilled that in me where I constantly wanted to just sharpen my screws and be the best I could be. And knowing the type of level and the type of play style we have to come in with night in and night out, and to be consistent in what I do, I have to be in the gym. Just to see the results now at a high level and where we are right now, I don’t want to get out the gym. That’s what he really instilled in me and I kept it going.”
If the game-winner was the best play of his life:
“Yes. I mean, the celebration and the reaction was a little shaky because I wasn’t too sure what I did. I wasn’t too sure if it counted, I didn’t want to be a blooper or none of that. I just wanted to just get to the next play or the refs confirm what it is. I was just so anxious, I was really stressed. It was a lot, I’m looking at the fans, I’m looking at the environment. It was a lot, but that was my best play and tried to embrace it.”
If he had faith that the play was possible:
“I had a lot of faith. I just knew if he was throwing it up, I know they trusted me to finish or do something with it while I’m in the air that I — once they throw it where I can catch it, I told Jae I would catch it. And he gave me a nod and there’s no questioning after that. Once you say, ‘You’re going to throw it,’ and I say, ‘I’m going to catch it,’ you go by it. And if something happens, something happens. You just fix it.”
On what these playoffs have been like for him:
“I’ve never played so hard from the jump ball to the end, 150 percent. Usually it’s like 110, but it’s 150 percent. And it’s 150 percent mentally. Just the level of focus on things you have to really pay attention to, it’s really intense. And just with fatigue and stuff like that kicking in especially, that’s when you know who’s really got your back, who’s locked in and this team is it.”
On what he has felt like unlocked more force in his game:
“You could say, ‘Dominayton times 100.’ But to be honest, like I said, being in the gym, doing the things I do consistently, approaching the game the right way. Having dudes like (starting point guard) [Chris Paul], Jae and Book and everybody just being on top of me. Just showing me things and telling me things that really for longevity, that I can continue for my career to be the best player that I can be. Stuff like running the floor hard, and that’s just a part of basketball. That’s the thing I do best, is running the floor.”
On the confidence the Suns could build with big games from him and point guard Cam Payne:
“Mainly, with this team, it don’t matter who’s on the floor. We play our game, we play the way we play. We’re coachable and we go by certain, I would say, certain structure. We don’t change anything, and somebody’s subbed out, one of our superstars is out, just know that dude who’s backing him up is going to play the same way. And that’s what we do best. Cam really stepped up, taking a lot of load off, making big shots and making some tough layups on that end. And just seeing how all that progressed and seeing the work he put in, he was bound to have a game like this.”
On the play being called the ‘Valley-Oop’:
“That’s tough. The Valley-Oop? I like that. I really like that.”
On how he has seen Payne’s confidence grow in the time he has played with him:
“I would honestly say that [Paul] has literally took Cam Payne under his wing. When you see Cam Payne coming into practice with Chris Paul, you’re wondering. Chris Paul is usually the one here early, but you see Cam Payne right behind him and you tend to ask questions. Them two have been with each other, watching film, lifting weights together in the morning before games, stuff like that. You can tell that Cam really took a different approach to a whole ‘nother level, and he did it right in front of our eyes and like I said, he was bound to have one of these games and he’s a guy who keeps it consistent. He plays hard, both ends of the ball, and I just love his passion.”
On what his strong stretch of play has meant to him, especially through comparisons to Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in his draft class:
“I mean, at the end of the day, we’re all different players. I’m a 7-foot big man and they’re two point guards. I don’t know what you can compare, but me, I play as hard as I can. This is my team, I dominate the best way I can for this team and I try to take this team as far as I can. Other than that, I trust my work, I trust my craft and I work very hard at it. And I’ll continue to do that.”
On the screen that Booker set on a strong player like Zubac:
“Man, Zubac is pretty strong. Like, (New Orleans Pelicans center) Steven Adams, he is pretty strong and a big dude as well. That’s why I gave so much props to Book to really set a good screen on a guy like himself, a paint protector and just really finding a good angle and then to free me up, all my respect go out to Book and Jae for that play.
On telling his son about this game:
“I got the jersey. I got the jersey for him so I can remember it, to give him that. So I think that was the first thing I said, ‘I want to give this jersey to him.’ Some people might say, ‘I ain’t done nothing or I ain’t win nothing,’ but that one meant something to me. So stuff like that, just keeping little things close to me.”
On his mindset as the series moves to Los Angeles:
“It’s going to get harder. Those dudes is going to come out even stronger, more physicality and they’re going to attack us. We just got to be prepared for anything. And one thing we just have to do is play our basketball. Once we do that, we’ll be fine, play our pace and the main thing is our defense. Once we stay focused on the defensive end, it’ll work on the offensive end. Offense will come.”