Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns handled the Milwaukee Bucks in the first game of the 2021 NBA finals. The big man showed up and led the Suns to a pull-away victory in the end and here is his story.
Mic’d up Ayton is always priority #1 for ESPN when the Suns are televised, especially on the big stage.
“Let’s get it. Let’s get it,” is how Ayton started the game with fist bumps to the front row. In a playful voice, the way to start a game is to treat it like a game.
Playing games to get into the mind of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the crowd begins the count to twelve with early free-throw attempts from Giannis, and Ayton might be having more fun than the crowd. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, his face was with the chant and couldn’t wait for the result of each attempt.
The result in the first quarter for Ayton in the paint was sharp. 3 attempts and 3 makes is something as Suns fans that we are used to, but the rest of the world can now be acquainted by his efficiency. Opportunities were there early and the ball was headed to his direction. Over the head lobs to a spot on the floor to where Ayton can gather the ball with momentum towards the rim were successful.
A quick breath by me after a vicious dunk by Giannis on Ayton's head had me thinking that this might have been a wake up call on defense late in the first quarter. One thing that I thought and said before the series was- Ayton has the ability to bump bodies with Giannis and to stay with him laterally. If the refs let them play, Ayton should be able to stay in this game without foul trouble.
Mismatches attacking P.J. Tucker, who for a moment was an obstacle in trying to move Ayton off the block was not attacked enough, but Cameron Johnson was able to get him the ball and get rid of the nuisance.
(Look forward to the Cam Johnson Watch, beginning next season — Johnson’s play has earned him the extra focus, play-by-play... But back to the star of the show)
Ayton, as he takes off from the spot that Kevin Durant made and missed the game winner against the Bucks two rounds ago, he lays the ball in. The giant steps leading him to the basket seemed to start at half court leading to the launch point at the three point line.
Offense was looking great for Ayton but the team needed more and that was rebounding.
Rebounding in the 2nd quarter was the focus and a must for Ayton. The bullies from the Bucks were having their way and Ayton needed to start flexing and grasping the boards.
And he did just that. You could see that his purpose on the floor was to clear the paint and get the offense running.
The zone on defense for the Suns is a killer for Ayton. He is best man-to-man and a couple possessions after the zone failed, it was back to Ayton vs Giannis. It is ok that Ayton was dunked on early in the game, that gives him the feel of what to expect the rest of the game. There is nothing more that I trust, other than Cam Johnson, and that is Ayton manning up on defense.
Ayton's reward for the continued perseverance of the rebound was the lob. Chris Paul, who turns into a magician when the Suns begin to pull away in games, looked to find Ayton. Pulling the big men away from Ayton and giving him a path to the rim looked easy but was always part of the plan.
Devin Booker and Paul in the 3rd quarter started to get the mid-range jumpers to fall and the alley-oop to Ayton was something that followed.
By the end of the third quarter, you were getting it all from Ayton. The rebounding, the scoring, the defense, and the effort. And with Paul knocking down anything he threw up, it was probably the end of Ayton's night, and we as Suns fans are used to that. But in the finals? We are spoiled.
Also, it is the finals and I am unsure why I thought the game was over? That is bad by me.
A winded effort by Ayton helped give the Suns an 17-point lead going into the 4th quarter.
Ayton began the 4th quarter and then taken out a minute into the fourth. Coach Monty Williams may have wanted to finish the Bucks or just try to play the matchup against Giannis. Either way, the rest was needed.
Just under 8 minutes left in the game and Ayton returned and it became a very close game. But I thought it was over! Silly me.
Johnson, now on defense, is showing himself even more. Taking attention away from Ayton to create his own story. The help defense by him against Giannis leaned Ayton upright to finish the game.
Defending was the final goal for Ayton and the Suns. Keeping the hands up and grabbing the rebound. That he did, and the Suns were able to take the victory in game 1 of the finals.
Final grade: A+
Nothing else was expected.