EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

In their words: Deandre Ayton Valley-Oop gives Suns Game 2 vs. Clippers

Jun 23, 2021, 12:10 AM | Updated: 8:01 am
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns catches the ball before a slam dunk over Ivica Zubac #40 and ...
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns catches the ball before a slam dunk over Ivica Zubac #40 and Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers during the second half of game two of the Western Conference Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on June 22, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — There was Devin Booker’s bashed up nose, a flop by Patrick Beverley, a few curious calls and too many reviews by the officials, and then a go-ahead bucket by Paul George with 22.2 seconds left.

George’s 21-footer gave the Los Angeles Clippers a 103-102 lead on the Phoenix Suns. A lot happened on Tuesday from there.

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, though, will be remembered for the final game second — and the close to 10 minutes of real time.

It was won by the Suns, 104-103, by what they’re calling the Valley-Oop. Deandre Ayton capped his night with a lob dunk that gave him 24 points, 14 rebounds and a playoff game-winner.

In the words of those involved on the court, here’s what happened after George hit a pull-up jumper to seemingly flip a Chris Paul-less Suns team from losing for the first time in nine games to taking a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.


With his Suns trailing by a point and 9.3 seconds left in the game, Booker attempts to drive on Beverley. The ball is poked out of bounds and initially ruled off Beverley before a replay review.

Official Scott Foster to pool reporter: “It was initially ruled off Beverley, but after replay review the last touch was by Devin Booker. That call comes from the Replay Center.”

Booker: “We can’t change the call after it happens. You get one challenge, we used that early, you kind of have to deal with it. You put your energy in the wrong place of trying to justify what happened two or three plays prior, you let your team down.”

The Clippers inbound the ball and Mikal Bridges intentionally fouls George with a second more off the clock.

George goes to the free throw line with the chance to make it a three-point Los Angeles lead but misses both attempts. He finished 5-of-10 from the line, missing five free throws in a game for the first time in eight years.

George: “Yeah, I mean, I’m not going to put too much on that. Obviously, it was an opportunity that was missed. … I’ve always been very successful in clutch moments at the free throw line.

“Tonight, I was just unsuccessful extending the lead. So I’m not going to put too much on that. Fact of the matter is, we still were in position to win a ballgame late in the game.”

Bridges grabs the rebound off the second George miss, and the Suns call timeout with 7.8 seconds remaining. With the clock ticking away out of the timeout, Bridges misses a corner jumper for the lead, and the ball is deflected out of bounds by Los Angeles.

It remains with Phoenix, and it’s on coach Monty Williams to draw up a play with just 0.9 seconds on the clock.

Suns forward Cam Johnson: “Coach got a big bag of tricks, a deep bag of tricks. That was drawn up on the spot … He brought this one out, I don’t think we’ve ever run it before, I don’t think we’ve ever seen it before.

“Obviously, I don’t think they had any idea that something like that would come. I don’t think we’ve run it before.”

Williams says that is partially untrue: “We’ve never walked through that one. We tried to run it earlier in the year against Denver and DA had to go up and catch it and bring it back down.”

What’s the play?

Williams recalls an out-of-bounds alley-oop executed by the Suns in 2017, when Tyson Chandler legally caught the inbound pass over the rim to dunk it home for a game-winner against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Williams: “We knew the rule. It’s not a shot so you can hit it whenever you throw it up.

“It’s pretty much a combination of something that Brett Brown used to run and Joe Prunty (Editor’s note: It was interim head coach Jay Triano) ran a play when he was here with the Suns, Tyson Chandler got that like a slap-in. I wish I was that bright (to create it), but I’m not.”

Ayton: “I’m worried, but I did what coach told me to do. So I’m like, ‘Is it on me?’ And coach looked at me said, ‘Yo, that’s the rule. If it’s above the cylinder, you can finish that play.’ I wasn’t too sure if he was right.

“I had a lot of faith. I just knew if he’s throwing it up, they trust me … I told Jae I would catch it. He gave me a nod. There’s no questioning after that.”

Before the lob attempt, Booker and his busted nose screen Ayton’s man, center Ivica Zubac. The Suns are aided by Ayton shoving the Clippers center into Booker, allowing Ayton to get a free run at the rim.

Suns point guard Cam Payne: “It goes down to late-game situations, you can get away with a little bit more.”

“At the end of the game, you can get away with a lot of stuff. That’s an unselfish play by (Booker), that’s big-time. … A lot of players won’t do that in his position. Kudos to him.”

Booker: “Just understanding how teams guard, not going to leave me. Any type of hit I can get to make ’em change direction, to get DA an ounce of free space for a chance to go get it. Again, he had to set up his man, to be able to get a hit. I keep saying it, I thought Jae Crowder’s pass, that’s a tough pass to make, for real.”

Ayton on Booker’s screen: “Zubac is pretty strong. … That’s why I really give props to Book.

“Sacrifice. Big sacrifice. … Book set the best screen and Jae threw the best pass. Just me doing what I do best, finishing above the rim.”

Beverley was asked if the Clippers’ plan was to keep the ball out of Booker’s hands: “That’s what happened.”

After the dunk, Ayton still isn’t 100% confident the dunk would not be overturned as a goaltend.

Ayton: “The reaction was a little shaky because I wasn’t too sure what I did. I wasn’t too sure it counted, didn’t want it to be a blooper.

“I was just so anxious, I was really stressed. It was a lot. I’m looking at the fans, I’m looking at the refs.”

The Clippers, including George and Rajon Rondo, appear to believe the play was a goaltend.

Booker: “I learned that (from the 2017 Chandler game-winner). I think that’s something a lot of people don’t know. Even talking to Rondo after the game, (he said) ‘It don’t count.’

“I’ve seen this movie before. It counts. … Again, Jae Crowder, that’s a tough pass.”

The replay review and then the referees organizing who could be on the court for both teams — there are no subs allowed during an official review — take close to 10 minutes in real time.

Johnson: “Man, it was crazy. It was just hanging in the balance. I had no idea, I think I was a little more off to the side: So they were talking about, is it going to count? What are we going to do, how much time is on the clock? It transitioned quickly from there into how are we going to try to guard them in these last 0.7 seconds.

“And lineups were all messed up. They were trying to sub in and out, we were looking at subbing in and out. It was a crazy eight minutes for sure. Felt long, felt like 30. But I’m glad that one went our way.”

Foster on the legality of the Suns’ go-ahead alley-oop: “Per NBA rule, an offensive player can touch the ball in the cylinder during a throw in. In this case, Ayton controlled the ball, completed the basket, and we timed it at the replay center to make sure it was less than 0.9 and that act of him touching the ball and clearing the net only took 0.2.”

Booker: “I knew the game was over. But you know, we just want to stay composed. There’s some extra hoo-rah going on on the court, play prior to. (Beverley) went into our crowd, holding up First Team All-Defense and all that (after the replay review ruled the ball out on Booker). The game wasn’t over.

“(The nose) feels better now. If we would have lost, I think it would hurt a little bit more. It’s good. I’ll go get some scans, get the mask ready. The play, man, that’s just execution at its finest. Took everybody – Jae passing it, Deandre setting his man up, Coach Monty believing in us to run that.”

Ayton, upon learning the play had been named the Valley-Oop: “I like that. I really like that.”

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