The Phoenix Suns selected Deandre Ayton first overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. For the first time in his career, he played in Phoenix wearing the threads of a different team. There wasn’t much hype entering the game, seeing as the Portland Trail Blazers were 3-10 and the team was struggling. Should there have been? Nah. Most of us have forgotten him and I am sure a handful of us are pretty happy he is gone.
But I was excited to sit and watch him for the first time in a long time.
Before stepping on the floor, Ayton once again provided hope into the Portland Trail Blazers fans' hearts, and well, he hasn’t lived up to expectations this year.
At #Suns media day, majority owner Mat Ishbia said it was a “unanimous” decision within the organization to trade Deandre Ayton for Jusuf Nurkic.— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) October 3, 2023
Ayton thanked Phoenix for “accommodating his wishes,” implying he requested a trade. pic.twitter.com/HupRlCQ5Ze
What you are about to read is a look at Ayton and how he faired Tuesday night. Yes, my “Ayton Watch” segment is making a return, albeit in a different form.
This is not to be confused with real hate. This might be a little bit of sports hate. He is playing for the other team, right? And the other team is normally the enemy.
Ayton tells you that himself.
Deandre Ayton on what type of reception he’s expecting from Suns fans in his first game back in Phoenix: “I don’t even know. I know Suns fans, if you ain’t wearing the same jersey as them, shit. Good luck!” pic.twitter.com/p7vTwB9kvX— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) November 22, 2023
The first two possessions showed you a lot about Ayton and reminded you of his career here in Phoenix. First possession, he bobbled the ball resulting in a turnover, followed by an extra large cheer from Suns fans. Then, came the motivation. Ayton heard it from the crowd and on the next possession, he took it to Jusuf Nurkic and made him feel his bumps on the way to the basket, scoring at ease.
Ayton made it a point to get his share of the scoring in the first quarter, settling for his high-percentage jump shot, landing him eight points within the first eight minutes of the first quarter. Finesse at its finest. His inability to get to the line has been disastrous. I am sure you have seen the stat before the game on Tuesday, but here it is again:
Ayton is averaging 0.7 free-throws per game before entering Tuesday night’s game. He ended the night with 0 attempts at the line.
Then, Ayton couldn’t miss.
Seeing Ayton that focused and determined to get his shot was actually nice to see. His confidence soared for the rest of the first quarter resulting in 12 points. When Ayton is hitting that shot, like Devin Booker at times, he can’t miss.
10-0 run for yourrrrrr portland trail blazers pic.twitter.com/8IsPpGVPiN— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) November 22, 2023
The rest of the Blazers team gravitated towards the energy that Ayton brought and fought hard in the second quarter making it a competitive game. Ayton, who was scorching in the first quarter, returned. Would he continue his streaky shooting, and would the Blazers continue to hand him the ball?
Yes, and I have to be honest, Ayton was a little nasty and had a fight in him to finish the second quarter. Swimming through the box outs and setting up the open man from three. At this time, I did get a little upset, because I liked this Ayton when he showed it to us in Phoenix.
Ayton at the half finished with an impressive stat line: 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.
To start the second half, Nurk showed that he got a little bit of that nasty in him as well. Giving us monster slams! Well, not monster really. Just dunks. But when do you ever see Nurk dunk?! He was doing his best to outshine Ayton in tonight’s matchup. All the while, Ayton kept getting the ball and draining shots, hitting the bottom of the net on every one.
Remember all the fighting and questioning over, “Why won’t they feed Ayton the ball?” Or, “Ayton needs to ask for the ball!”? Well, Ayton, along with the Blazers, answered those quickly and quietly with two shots in the first four minutes from Ayton starting the third.
DA cookin’— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) November 22, 2023
18 PTS | 9-13 FG | 6 REB pic.twitter.com/t8bVMs73Uw
The Suns unleashed the beast in Nurk who was taking his aggression out on the rim. He was another player, showing his old team what they were missing out on.
Nurk outplayed Ayton in the third quarter, getting what he wanted in the paint and finding plenty of room to throw down three dunks. Yep! He had three of them.
The outstanding play by Nurk sparked the Suns and Ayton was silent after only four points in the third quarter. Ayton was a ghost for the remainder of the third before heading to the bench. It was a game that got too physical and high-tensioned for his liking.
Ayton returned for his final stint with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
At first, I would say he was nonexistent, but by grabbing another offensive rebound, he gave the Blazers another shot at a three to cut the lead to 11 and they did just that.
I was praying the Suns could run away with the lead, but that wasn’t so. The Blazers had one last comeback in them and Ayton was part of it with a big block on Booker. But that was it. Booker came back down the next possession and hit a shot over Ayton to seal the game. You could see both Booker and Ayton talking to each other, and I don’t think there were kind words exchanged.
Now they get into it for Booker, with Gordon still initiating— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) November 22, 2023
Solid screens (especially from Durant) net a late switch for Booker, & access to Ayton — who doesn't want to commit to stepping up
That's a layup for Booker with a minimal contest pic.twitter.com/26DPteWcQH
The battle between Ayton and Phoenix ended with Booker ending Ayton’s night.
Ayton posted a solid stat line that barely changed from the first half.
18 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Till next time Ayton! It was good having you back!