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Deandre Ayton Had To “Like, Dunk It, OK?” So He Did

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There was not much time, but the premise was simple: Deandre Ayton is large and good at jumping so we will get him above the rim so he can dunk the Clippers into hell. With 0.8 seconds left in regulation and Jae Crowder inbounding from the corner, Ayton ensured he would be alone in the air to catch that lob and convert it into a Suns victory in Game 2 on Tuesday night.

First Ayton set a decoy screen for his teammate, Cam Johnson, to streak along the arc and get all the way out of the real action. Then Ayton had to puzzle out how to prevent his defender, Ivica Zubac, from getting to the rim before he did. This turned out to be a straightforward process. Grab Zubac by the jersey. Yank him directly into Devin Booker—who was not so much setting a screen as he was permitting himself to become a completely passive obstacle to a 241-pound dude moving with great urgency. Then, after Zubac lost a step in the scramble, beat him by a hand’s length to Crowder’s gorgeous inbounds pass. Finally: plop. The Clippers had 0.7 second left to span the full length of the floor and get a clean look, and they failed. Suns won, 104-103.

With choreography that clean, and a play call that bold, you might have expected some extensive stage direction in the preceding huddle, as Suns coach Monty Williams pinned down every last detail from the location of Crowder’s pass to the angle of Booker screen. Something masterful, something for the annals of basketball history. Something like: “Our ball. OK, execute it. DA, you—if he throws it, you gotta like, dunk it, OK?”

No hand-holding necessary. As it turned out, the team didn’t even have much experience with the play, which Williams said he magpied from former Sixers coach Brett Brown and former Suns assistant Joe Prunty, who used to run a variant for Tyson Chandler. “There’s so many situations you can walk through—we’ve never walked through that one. We tried to run it earlier in the year, playing against Denver, and DA had to go up and catch it and bring it back down to try and score. I think he dunked it, but that was just Jae, Book’s screen, and DA’s ability to go get the ball,” said Williams after the game. The starker the contrast between the preparation and execution, the cooler this all gets.