EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Deandre Ayton gives himself ‘F-‘ grade, Jazz’s execution dooms Suns

Mar 13, 2019, 11:22 PM
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)...
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Phoenix Suns rookie center and No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, it’s that he’s his own worst critic.

After Ayton finished with a career-low two points and was thoroughly outplayed by the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert on Wednesday night, he was brutally honest about the way he performed in a 114-97 loss

“Overall game I give myself [an] F-,” Ayton said. “This was a bad game. I definitely put this loss on me. I just wasn’t locked in. I don’t know what was happening. The shots I took were pretty bad. It was just… This was definitely the worst game I’ve ever played. The worst. By far.

“Ever. In my whole career.”

Ayton was 1-for-9 from the field and is shooting over 58 percent on the season.

To be fair to Ayton, Gobert does that to a whole lot of centers night in and night out.

The beauty of a player like Gobert is that he can completely neutralize a terrific talent like Ayton in Ayton’s current form. Gobert’s extreme level of activity on the boards with his length cancels out any positives Ayton brings there, and while you don’t think offense with the Frenchman, his immense gravity as a rim runner made Ayton work all night.

And then there’s the defensive end, where the reigning Defensive Player of the Year made life miserable for Ayton. The rookie likes to use jumpers and touch shots to get going early but Gobert is so fantastic at just about every part of being a defender that he contests Ayton’s shots unlike any other player in the league.

Now, Ayton was asked about the Gobert matchup, but said it wasn’t about that. Multiple times Ayton cited his head wasn’t in the right spot for the night.

“I don’t believe in none of that,” Ayton said, citing that half the time with all the switching he’s not even on Gobert.

Ayton missed his first four shots and didn’t score until the fourth quarter, where he was uncharacteristically forcing the issue. To no surprise, that didn’t go well, and he admitted as much after the game.

“I was rushing all my shots and I felt like I had to speed up or I felt like I was a step behind, really,” he said. “The shots I was taking I normally don’t take.

“It was just all bad and all messed up for me tonight.”

Ayton said he was in the shower after the game reliving his shot attempts and failing to convince himself he really took them.

Defensively, the Jazz ran pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll at Ayton and had success doing so.

On the night, Gobert had 18 points and 20 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive glass. And wouldn’t you know it, Utah had a plus-18 edge in rebounding over the Suns.

As for the game, the Suns were either close behind, tied or slightly in the lead for most of the night. But Phoenix’s biggest lead was only four, and every time the Suns made a mini-run, the Jazz were precise on offense and got a good look.

They simply out-executed the Suns, operating like one of the league’s best defenses normally does while continuing to get positive opportunities on offense through ball movement.

By the mid-third quarter, the game’s result felt inevitable unless someone went nuclear on the Suns’ end.

Even after the Suns canceled out a 14-point Jazz lead, Utah eventually pulled away at the start of the fourth quarter via open dunks and threes.

While Devin Booker had a great night and the likes of Tyler Johnson and Kelly Oubre Jr. were solid, they were all inferior to Gobert’s overall impact.

Booker finished with 27 points, four rebounds and six assists, continuing his strong form as of late. Unfortunately, he took a fall in the late fourth quarter and grabbed at his left foot on a few occasions. When the game concluded he was seen walking back to the locker room with his left shoe off.

Booker said after the game he stubbed his toe and it’s nothing serious.

For the Suns, the loss to the Jazz is one you can accept. At several points in the game, the Jazz could have gotten it to cruise control status. But Phoenix continued to compete for most of the night, which is far more than they’ve done most nights this season.

The challenge ahead is how they avoid this loss being the start of a skid and instead bounce back on the road.

Now for Ayton, that’s a whole other story.

He expanded on the mental battle he went through for the night.

“After I saw the first three shots that I take normally didn’t go … I wouldn’t say I shut down automatically but it was one of those where I started moping after every time I seen a miss. And usually I don’t do that — I just shoot the ball, and you know, make or miss.

“I don’t know why I was so worried about the shot. It was just so off … To be honest I’m just tired.”

You can interpret his admitted exhaustion several ways while taking into consideration the tidbit that he did not look fatigued on the court.

Ayton’s near the end of a long season and the “rookie wall” is not a myth. He’s also coming off some of his best-ever games, defending LeBron James one night and Giannis Antetokounmpo the next.

He’s also had a few of these games this season. It’s incredibly easy for Ayton to be productive but it was the seventh time he’s failed to score in double figures.

What’s more interesting, though, is not what he means by being tired, but how he’s gonna respond.

When asked how quick the itch comes for the next game after a bad performance, Ayton said it’s right away.

“As soon as I [saw Utah] subbing everybody out I was like, ‘Bro, I need to hurry up and play the next game.’ If I don’t play (the) next game ASAP, like right away — Oh my goodness, I might go crazy,” he said.

“I’m gonna have to see a basketball in the next two hours maybe or something.”

Ayton does not have the type of personality to go home, shut the lights off and hit the hay to reset for the next day.

“I won’t be going to sleep tonight,” he said. “I’ll be watching film if y’all need me.”

UP NEXT

The Suns have a road back-to-back that starts in Houston on Friday against the Rockets. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. and you can listen live on ESPN 620 AM.

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