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Bahamas, powered by Ayton and Gordon, blow out Cuba 109-68 in first Olympic Pre-Qualifying match

The Phoenix teammates combined for 39 of the Bahamian points, despite limited minutes exiting early with the game in hand


Sporting a new look with short braids and jersey number 1, Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton took the floor in the first game of these Olympic Pre-Qualifiers for his native Bahamas.

The slimmed down Ayton embarked on a journey in hopes of changing the narrative, and this first game served as the first steps, leading his nation to a 109-68 victory over Cuba. Ayton finished with 22 points (10-14 FG), 10 rebounds, one assist (one turnover), and one steal in 25 minutes (+37, exited for the final time with a 33-point lead).

Ayton was active early, flashing some of his new tricks in the first quarter, which included some dribble-handoff chemistry with new Suns teammate, Eric Gordon, who finished with 17 points (6-10, 4-7 3P), two rebounds, and four assists (two turnovers).

As this first stint started to wind down for Ayton, he flashed one of the things he’s been working on this summer, a pull-up jumper after some ‘tween, ‘tween action, showing off his improved handle. That’s when I really started to perk up, because time and time again we’ve heard Ayton talk about the improvements he makes in the summer, but this time we’re actually seeing the fruits of his labor.

Maybe executing that play was what got Ayton to settle into the game even more, because the activity ramped up a few more notches as he re-entered the game to start the second quarter. He got to the free throw line out of a self-created drive, and corralled four rebounds in the quarter’s first three minutes, dare I say “Domin-Ayton” the glass.

Ayton stayed active, dunking a few home throughout the rest of the game, finishing with at least five by my count; I recall during the last season writing about a stretch where he averaged four dunks per game, and that felt like a strong mark for him, so this game was even better for tracking that element.

He ran the floor well throughout the game as well, which helped to open up threes for teammates; the Bahamas finished with a blistering 17-34 (50%) from three with Gordon and Indiana Pacers wing Buddy Hield accounting for eight of those makes.

Finally, to further build on the chemistry between Ayton and Gordon, the two were able to connect in the paint for an Ayton dunk from a Gordon dump-off pass. Ayton dunked one more before coming out for good measure, a reverse after hugging the baseline on a drive.

I know it was just one game in an international tournament against Cuba (ranked 70th in the world according to FIBA), but these strides that Ayton took felt very real, largely due to how mistake-free his game was throughout. He wasn’t bobbling every pass that came his way, he wasn’t completely out of control with his handle, and he wasn’t spacing on defense. His one turnover in 25 minutes helps to illustrate that.

Even as someone who lobbied throughout this summer for Ayton to be moved (albeit at the right price), it’s hard for me to watch a game like this and not feel like it’s one of the most complete games Ayton’s put on film from start to finish, totally encapsulating the value he can bring a team.

Time will tell if these flashes are real, and time might tell very quickly, as the Bahamas’ next test in group play will come against host nation — and tournament favorite according to many — Argentina, led by former Denver Nuggets pest Facundo Campazzo. That game will tip from Santiago del Estero, Argentina on Wednesday at 5:10 AZ time on Courtside1891.

Speaking of Courtside1891, I was wrong to tell the good Bright Side readers that these games would be streamed on FIBA’s YouTube channel. Courtside1891 is the platform streaming these matches — as well as for the World Cup — and is available for a $20 pass, which gets you live and on-demand access to all Suns-related FIBA games between Bahamas, Nigeria (Chimezie Metu), Japan (Yuta Watanabe) and USA (the twins). You can find all the info here.

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