After scoring the go-ahead dunk in the Phoenix Suns’ Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, starting center Deandre Ayton said his 24-point, 14-rebound performance mirrored his self-given nickname, ‘Dominayton,’ times 100.
His effort in Game 4 might have exceeded that mark.
In the Suns’ 84-80 victory in Los Angeles on Saturday night, Ayton recorded a career-high 22 rebounds — nine of which came on the offensive end — along with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. He also had four blocks, anchoring the paint while Phoenix limited the Clippers to 31-of-86 from the field (36.0 percent).
Following the game, Suns starting point guard Chris Paul credited Ayton for his performance in a big way.
“That man over there, Deandre Ayton, he’s going to him a bag this summer,” Paul said. “He’s going to get him a bag, and he’s showing everybody right now during the playoffs why.”
For the third straight game, Ayton scored in double figures in the first quarter, totaling 11 points and six rebounds on 4-of-5 shooting. He finished with a near double-double at 15 points and nine rebounds at halftime, exploiting the Clippers with hard rolls to the paint and five offensive rebounds.
Even though his offensive output dropped in the second half, Ayton was critical to the Suns’ winning efforts, especially on the defensive end. He played all but two minutes and six seconds in the second half and helped Phoenix hold Los Angeles to 14 points on a 3-of-19 shooting clip in the fourth quarter.
The Suns won the battle in points in the paint, 42-36, and now lead that category in this series 198-140.
“Deandre’s presence, his effort, the rebounding, the shot-blocking, his communication on defense, switching out on smaller guys and being able to guard them,” Williams said. “He was the catalyst tonight on the defensive end. I thought it was an unreal performance from him and then our guys rallied around him.”
Here’s what Ayton had to say about his performance.
On his shirt with Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker’s nose swollen:
Deandre Ayton is a savage for this pic.twitter.com/AkrEdhYHoY— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 27, 2021
“A little motivation to come in. My boy got all banged up, so just to send a little message.”
On what he learned about himself and his teammates in a tight game in the fourth quarter:
“I’ll start off with my teammates: We’re really relentless. We have a thing on the team where some would call, ‘togetherness,’ and we play as a unit, we come together. And we just fight over adversity and fight over fatigue. Mental, stamina was there today and we did a good job of that. And me, I learned I could keep going. There’s another level, I learned that. I think I reached the next level that I really need to be, to be at this level when it comes to competing.”
On how much he is enjoying film and adjustments throughout the postseason:
“I mean, I like it because we see what teams like to do and they see what we like to do. So just seeing how they come up with different coverages to counter our plays and stuff like that — it’s really lit. I’d say with me, just knowing teams’ tendencies, knowing their bread and butter. And just stopping, I wouldn’t say cheat the play, but just predicting it and having a sense of urgency.”
On what he knows about closeout games after going through two of them:
“That it’s important, every possession counts. Really from the jumpball, but when it comes to down to that and fatigue is kicking in, everything counts. And the whistle might not go your way, 50-50 balls will vary. They’re really, really precious and just having that mental stamina, again, just having that mindset that it’s not going to go your way. You have to play through it. Calls are going to be called and making free throws at the end, I really gave my props up to (Suns starting point guard) [Chris Paul] because he really got some ice in his veins. You know what I’m saying? He knocked it down and carried us home.”
On what has inspired his resiliency on the court:
“It’s basketball. I went through tougher things than this through life, you know what I’m saying? So just overcoming fatigue and a little adversity, I’m blessed. To have a team to really keep my head together and I got their back and they got mine and a coaching staff where their sense of urgency was, I really liked it today. And they’re really locked in on just making sure we’re alert and knowing what was coming. As you could see at the end of the game, it was a lot of subs. I ain’t never been through none of that, but I understand what they’re trying to do. I really enjoyed all of that.”
On setting a career high with 22 rebounds:
“I’m going to be honest, I got outplayed last game. (Clippers starting center Ivica) Zubac did a great job of controlling the glass and being a presence down low on both ends of the floor. And it was up to me to get in front of that, compete with that and challenge that. And just trying my best, that’s about it. Just really trying my best to be relentless on the glass and really try to control both ends of the floor. My presence, talking and just second effort.”
On a stretch when both teams struggled from the field in the fourth quarter:
“I was like, ‘This is finals basketball right here.’ This is really what it is. Like, it’s a good shot but your legs ain’t there. It look good, but it ain’t. You just got to stick with it — keep doing what you do and don’t react on things like that. As a young team, we got some vets on this team who really buckle up and they knew this was going to happen. Just got to keep pushing and keep chipping in them.”
On how he improved his focus during the postseason:
“Honestly, the world having me as a question mark in the playoffs. Like, it got to me a little bit. And I wanted to change that. That’s about it, just a question mark on me, you know? I just wanted to change that and prove everyone wrong.”
On what that mindset requires:
“Consistency. Point, blank, period — consistency. Just approaching the game the right way, to start off, and just doing the right things, getting ready for the next game and making sure you prepare, watching film heavily. Know what teams are going to throw at us, asking (Suns) coach (Monty Williams) questions, telling him what I see as well. And just making sure I’m comfortable going into the game.”
“Oh, I love CP man. Like I said, that’s really the only teammate that really push me. Like, big [brother]-type push, knowing what I got that I never thought that I had. I think he was the best thing that happened to my career, I can say that every day. Just, C is really a dude who pays attention to detail. It’s not how you say it, it’s what you say, I think it was most people don’t get. He’s just a message, for real. And he cares so much, it’s actually crazy. I never knew a guy that cares so much about basketball, competing at everything. It’s contagious, and that’s going to build in me as well. And just having him as a teammate and experiencing what he’s been through and teaching me the little things, it’s helped me man. And it’s working.”
On potentially getting Paul to his first NBA Finals:
“I’m going to try my best. I know how it is as an older player, being in the league and stuff like that. We have an opportunity like this, you can’t take it for granted and he’s letting us know. He’s letting us know and we know the task at hand.”
More on the Booker shirt:
“I like it. Now, people know Book is tough. They knew he was a scorer but he’s legit. Toughness is like, that’s D-Book. And he’s a little crazy, but toughness was him. But the shirt was made my ‘Brand C.’ One of my friends made it for me, and just to really show that we here. We can take a punch in the face but we will throw one back.”