Enigma of Deandre Ayton continues in Suns’ loss to Mavericks

Jan 27, 2023, 12:11 AM | Updated: 7:27 am

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton played a bizarre game on Thursday night in the 99-94 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

The center scored 19 points and secured 20 rebounds, but he shot 6-for-20 from the field and had multiple lapses in focus throughout the game that allowed the Mavericks to either snag an easy bucket in crunch time or grab offensive or defensive rebounds. He added two assists and two blocks.

He was the only starter for Phoenix that posted a negative plus/minus, going -1 over 31 minutes despite the monster numbers.

The 30% shooting from the field was his third-lowest shooting percentage of the year.

“I was struggling a little bit on some of the shots,” Ayton told reporters postgame. “I still had some rust on me with contact involved. When you’re in the gym getting your shots up by yourself, they are not playing as intensely as they are in the games … I shot the ball like crap tonight.”

The Suns’ center had not played in a week and missed three contests due to a non-COVID illness. He mentioned how although he had a poor performance shooting-wise, he felt aggressive attacking the basket.

Despite the positive outlook on his own performance, many around basketball were not as thrilled with the numbers for a couple of different reasons showcased in the loss.

“Ayton 19 points and 20 rebounds was fools gold tonight,” ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins tweeted Thursday.

“He got his (expletive) whipped in every way. He was horrible in the pick-n-roll, finishing around the basket and played with zero passion.”

Throughout the night, there were multiple examples of Ayton lacking focus despite having a significant size advantage on most of Dallas’ team.

One of the final nails in the coffin that marred the performance for many Suns fans was the Reggie Bullock missed throw with 12 seconds remaining in the 97-95 game.

Mavs big man Dwight Powell was not boxed out and snuck from the opposite side of the lane to secure the game-winning rebound before being fouled by Ayton.

“At the end of the day it is two-on-one and I didn’t box out,” Ayton said. “We have to pinch him and do our job. We didn’t do that … That’s how dudes win playoff games, that’s how dudes win NBA Finals games.”

“Just situational awareness, like I told the guys, ‘every possession has to be important to us.’ I don’t think it was important tonight,” head coach Monty Williams told reporters.

“Across the board, I thought our bench came in with very little awareness of the game plan. I made a few subs and the energy went, focus went and then in that situation, it was not as important to us as to them, to get the ball.”

There was a play in the second quarter where Ayton ran up and down the court not picking up an assignment on offense or defense.

Additionally, the Suns’ big man slipped behind the back line of the Mavericks’ defense and missed an alley-oop that could have been dunked. Ayton attempted a layup with 7:14 remaining in an 86-81 game.

Ayton is averaging 17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks. His shooting percentage, rebounds and blocks are all career lows in his fifth season in the league after signing a four-year, $133 million contract in the offseason.

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