Deandre Ayton’s timeless alley-oop finish to cement a 104-103 Phoenix Suns Game Two victory over the L.A. Clippers immediately immortalized itself as a “where were you?” moment as soon as Ayton found paydirt with his thunderous jam.
DEANDRE AYTON FOR THE WIN— ESPN (@espn) June 23, 2021
UNBELIEVABLE GAME WINNER!! pic.twitter.com/tcHwtzUcty
It was absolutely incredible — arguably the greatest moment the team has created this century, and will undoubtedly endure the test of time in Suns lure long after Crowder, Ayton and co. have hung up their playing sneaks.
If you were looking for a dagger to drive into the heart of the Clippers’ already disheveled hopes, this was it, and everything about the play: from the pass through the narrowest of windows, to the timely leap, to the emphatic kill shot, reeked of a defining snapshot for a unit primed to strut its stuff right into the NBA Finals.
And the man who in an instant became the centerpiece of it all, is catching whiff of the most magnificent aroma of flowers from players, fans and analysts alike as he revels in his crowning achievement up to this point in his career.
Rightfully so, although we’d be remiss if we didn’t give praise to Jae Crowder for his baseball-esque thread of the needle with a pass that just barely missed clipping the backboard on its way to its final destination.
This angle of Deandre Ayton’s game-winner— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 23, 2021
(via beauroth/IG) pic.twitter.com/cSWeDfIb8Y
Nonetheless, Ayton is the star of the moment. and his exuberant beam from ear-to-ear after finding out that the basket would be counted brought a contagious joy to the hearts and homes of every Suns fan worldwide.
It has been a longtime coming for the bustling Bahamian.
After being selected first overall by the Suns in 2018, Ayton’s jumpstart to stardom took a delayed route as he clawed to find his footing in the pro ranks.
He entered the association as a raw athletic talent oozing with loads of potential, but production to match expectations lagged a bit behind in the beginning of his career.
His debut all the way back in October 2018 was the consummate encapsulation of a young buck ready to earn his adult antlers: 18 points, 10 boards and six assists on an 8/11 clip from the floor. But game two of his professional campaign was a downsize back into greenhorn form: five points, eight boards and 2/7 from field goal range.
And so went the tale of his rookie season. There were lofty highs, followed by perilous lows, and as he jumped from 20+ point outbursts, to four-point spurts, Suns’ belief in his ability began to mirror his own statistical trajectory — hiccuping like a heart rate monitor.
Meanwhile, rooks like Luka Doncic and Trae Young were flashing the confidence and dexterity of seasoned vets, taking the league — and world — by storm as they established themselves high on the alpha totem pole in year one.
But Ayton wasn’t too far behind. There was just something missing from his development that would unearth the diamond Phoenix knew they unearthed when they drafted him.
The talent, size and nimble fleet-footedness were always there, but rumblings of an unpolished work ethic, plus mental immaturity hampered his growth.
Then came the suspension in year two, which came crashing down on him like a gavel at a judge’s bench right after the first game of the year: 25 games without pay for a banned diuretic.
Word of the temporary layoff broke just after Ayton erupted with an 18-point, 11 rebound, four block masterpiece to open season two in October 2019, registering a Basketball Reference Game Score of 19.3 to kick off his second season.
It was another hilly inversion in a roller-coaster of emotions for Suns supporters, who felt the wind evaporate from their sails immediately upon the news’ release.
In a statement dispersed shortly thereafter, Ayton expressed his remorse for the mistake, acknowledging its effect on the franchise:
“I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that I am deeply sorry. I’m extremely disappointed that I’ve let my team down.”
Ayton vowed to return stronger and more diligent, but still, questions continued to percolate with regards to the big man’s discipline.
Those inquiries though, have now been put to bed, and are quietly tucked away in a deep slumber ready to be snoozed for good.
The 2021 playoffs have been Ayton’s cumulative coming-out party.
“DominAyton” has truly been the essence of his postseason performance, and while cogs in the cohort like Chris Paul and Devin Booker have been marvelous, Ayton has been turbo ignition that’s sparked it all.
He’s unleashing the full breadth of his much-improved offensive game: hitting midrange shots, savvy post hooks, and of course, Earth-shaking rim-rockers.
He’s a rebound machine, gathering countless misplaced shots like a bill collector, and creating tons of extra opportunities for his team on the offensive glass.
And my goodness, is he a workaholic. He runs the floor exceptionally well, gets down and dirty to dive for loose balls, and continues to provide an energetic airlift even when not on the floor (we have ESPN’s Mic’up segment to than for those sound bites).
Ayton’s made handiwork of every foe he’s been matched up against in the postseason. Be it Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic or now Ivaca Zubac, his confidence is unwavering, and he’s been up to every challenge.
Each opposing center has been just another “x” on a hitlist that’s netted Ayton a double-double average throughout his first playoffs: 16.3 ppg, 10.7 rebounds on 71% shooting (the first player to average a surplus of 70% through any 12-game span in the shot clock era). Plus, he's sporting a total +/- of +93 while he’s on the floor.
He’s also averaging 5.7 ppg on cuts to the rim (most in the postseason) and 5.1 points per game as roll man in P&R’s (third-best). His efficiency is through the roof — he’s in the 92nd percentile with 1.49 points per possession, while his team is in the 90th percentile defensively.
Point being: Ayton’s impact is immeasurable, and the Suns are indubitably superior when he’s on the floor as opposed to when not.
And the team is going to have a chance solidify that value by rewarding him with a massive payday in the summertime. Ayton has one more year on his rookie deal at a reasonable price, but is eligible this summer for a 4+ year extension beyond the 2021/22 season that would make him one of the higher-paid players in the league starting with his age-24 year.
Which at this point, has to be nothing short of a no-brainer.
Look out folks — the latest episode of “Ballers” starring future nine-figure earner Deandre Ayton is coming to a television screen near you!