I had a visceral, physical reaction during pregame when I heard the broadcaster say Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton had been “so reliable” throughout this run for the Bahamas, but it’s true. He’s raising the standard for himself once again.
The big man didn’t have the same success offensively that he enjoyed earlier in the week, but he found ways to impact winning even despite that, solving problems in ways we’re not used to seeing, as he helped the Bahamas to a 78-62 win that was a lot more dominant than the score lets on.
Ayton was very clearly a point of emphasis for the Uruguay defense. Early on, it was clear they were sending doubles whenever Ayton would dribble. They also weren’t letting him get too comfortable on defense, playing a 5-out offense whenever they could to pull him away from the rim.
He channeled the frustration he was feeling offensively into some tough play on the glass, which helped him settle in. Three boards and a quick middy later, Ayton had the Bahamas up 15-5 after the first six minutes and change, prompting a Uruguay timeout.
Even as the misses stacked up at such an unusual rate by Ayton’s standards (1-4 to start), I liked his process in getting to the looks; even though all were mid-range jumpers. His actions look more precise, strong, and intentional despite the traffic as well as them just not falling.
Ayton finished the opening frame with four rebounds, and Buddy Hield scored 13 to make up for what Ayton wasn’t able to do, and the Bahamas took a 24-13 lead into the second.
Though Uruguay had some momentum to start the second, their offense stagnated once again, and they couldn’t keep up with the Bahamas on the other end. To be fair, Bahamas weren’t necessarily running away with it like they maybe could’ve; the 20 points in that quarter was one of the worst quarters they’ve had all week.
Finally early in the third, Ayton got some more shots to go down, scoring on back-to-back possessions before a no-call on the third possession kept him from making it three scores in a row. Later, he even dove for a ball (have I ever seen this before ever? Maybe not!) and told his bench he wanted to stay in when it seemed he might’ve been injured.
I’ve truly been so impressed all week long with Ayton’s attitude and approach.
With exclusively Bahamian reserves out there to start the fourth, Uruguay was able to chip into the lead a bit, cutting the deficit to as low as 17 with just over 5 minutes, prompting a Bahamas timeout. Reserves stayed in, and the turnovers kept coming.
Uruguay pulled within 11 with four minutes left, prompting the returns of Gordon and Hield as well as some stirring on the bench from Ayton. Then as the Bahamas extended it back out to 15, things started to get chippy, as they often can in FIBA play.
Argentina guard Martin Rojas smacked down pretty hard on Bahamas guard Franco Miller’s face during a shot attempt, which left both teams swarming the area. Rojas, by my estimation, was not going for the ball at all, almost karate-chopping down on Miller’s face. Rojas was assessed an unsportsmanlike foul and a double-tech was given out as well.
Fittingly, Miller was the one to hit a dagger three with 1:38 remaining to give the Bahamas a 21-point lead. Final tallies for the Suns involved:
- Ayton: eight points (4-9 FG), nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 23 minutes (+26)
- Gordon: 13 points (4-9), two rebounds, and two assists in 21 minutes (+26)
This semifinal win sends the Bahamas to Sunday’s tournament championship against familiar foe Argentina. That game will be a 5:10 p.m. tip, and the winner goes onto the final Olympic Qualifiers next July, right before the Paris games open.