The best Arizona sports plays of 2021
Dec 31, 2021, 6:05 PM | Updated: 6:12 pm
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The year 2021 had no shortage of jaw-dropping plays from the Valley’s biggest stars.
Being in high leverage games tends to produce these moments, and multiple local teams competed for a championship this year.
The Phoenix Suns and Mercury each made the Finals, while the Arizona Cardinals started off 7-0 for the first time since relocating to the Valley in 1988.
Let’s go through some of this year’s plays in Arizona sports that will be remembered for a long time.
What else would be first?
The Suns were down by one with 0.9 seconds on the clock in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Forward Jae Crowder delivered a beautiful alley-oop inbounds pass to the rolling center Deandre Ayton, who got freed up by a Devin Booker backscreen. It nearly skimmed the side of the backboard on its way.
Ayton caught it and threw it down over Clippers center Ivica Zubac as the final buzzer and the crowd blared.
The Clippers got the ball back with 0.7 left following lengthy reviews, but the Suns held on to go up 2-0.
It was quickly nicknamed the “Valley-oop,” a phrase that will always be remembered by Suns fans.
Griner’s block sends Mercury to WNBA Finals
From a game-winning basket to a series-clinching block.
The Mercury were clinging to an 86-84 lead in the closing seconds of Game 5 of the Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces.
The Aces’ inbounds pass went to A’ja Wilson, the 2020 league MVP. She turned around and drove with her strong left hand. Mercury center Brittney Griner was on her right hip until she went up and pinned Wilson’s layup against the backboard.
Griner controlled the rebound and was fouled with 0.7 seconds left.
Phoenix won the game 87-84 to reach its first WNBA Finals since 2014.
Laterals seldom happen in football games and almost never on defense.
In Arizona State’s matchup against the Stanford Cardinal in October, a play unlike any other in college football this season occurred.
The Sun Devils led 21-10 with just under three minutes left in the third quarter — it was a healthy cushion but the game was not over.
ASU cornerback Jack Jones bullied his way to an interception on quarterback Tanner McKee. Jones, while being wrestled to the ground, saw teammates and safety DeAndre Pierce flash behind him, and flipped the ball backward.
Pierce had a clear lane, and he returned the takeaway 27 yards for the touchdown.
It would be hard to pick the top 10 plays from Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray in 2021.
One option would be Murray back-foot pass to wide receiver Christian Kirk in Week 1 at Tennessee.
However, the duo one-upped themselves the following week.
The Minnesota Vikings led Arizona 33-31 6:10 left in the game. On 4h-and-5, Murray dropped straight back, 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and launched a moon ball off his back foot with multiple defenders closing in.
Kirk adjusted midair in single coverage and came down with the ball at the Vikings’ 9-yard line.
This set up a field goal, which made the difference in a 34-33 win.
In a forgettable 2020-21 season for Arizona basketball that saw the team self-penalize itself by imposing a postseason ban, a buzzer-beating victory against rival ASU stands out.
It was a game of runs until Wildcats big Azuolas Tubelis blocked ASU guard Remy Martin at the rim, ran the floor and put back an air-balled three at the horn to give Arizona an 84-82 victory in Tempe.
The Wildcats swept ASU in basketball last season.
Are you kidding Kyler Murray?! 😱
This 77-yard strike to Rondale Moore puts the Cardinals (-3.5) ahead of the Vikings, 21-20!
Moore anytime TD (+225) 💵
Murray Over 1.5 pass TDs (-200) 💵#Skol | #AZCardinals pic.twitter.com/nWEFPJ0Qwt
— TwinSpires Sportsbook 💵 (@TS_Sportsbook) September 19, 2021
Murray hit rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore on several highlight plays early this season.
The third-year quarterback faced a blitz in the closing 100 seconds of the first half against the Vikings. He spun away from one rusher and took off to his left.
He launched a ball down the sideline to Moore while traveling at 16.26 miles per hour. It was on the money to the rookie, who was wide open after being left alone by defenders who came up to defend Murray’s run.
Moore turned around and scored his first career touchdown, thanks in part to Kirk’s excellent blocking downfield.