Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Deandre Ayton had been quietly brilliant for the Suns, not just in these NBA Finals but throughout the playoffs.

It wasn’t so quiet in Sunday’s Game 3, after his foul trouble and late-game absence underscored just how important he is to the Suns.

The Suns had headed to Milwaukee with a 2-0 lead looking to take command of the NBA Finals. Instead, Ayton could only watch as the Bucks turned it into a series.

Ayton did have 18 points and nine rebounds on eight of 11 shooting. But he had five fouls, and scored just two points after the 9:35 mark of the second quarter.

“It affected us obviously, but we have to weather the storm,” Jae Crowder said. “It definitely caught us off guard and we had to go throw a lot of different things at them, and it led to us scrambling and the offensive rebounds. But, you know, it is what it is.”

Deandre Ayton
Deandre Ayton goes up for a shot in traffic.
Getty Images

Ayton’s step-back jumper put Phoenix ahead 34-30 just 2:25 into the second quarter, but he was invisible the rest of the night. When an uber-aggressive Giannis Antetokounmpo drew Ayton’s fourth foul just 1:35 into the third quarter, the young center didn’t return the rest of the period.

“Yeah, that’s a tough one. I don’t even want to go there. It’s pretty self-explanatory. We got to figure out or define what’s a legal guarding position, because there are times where he can move his hands out of the way. But it’s hard to tell a guy what to do when somebody is running into you,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I don’t know what a legal guarding position is at times.

“But they were aggressive and we have to give them credit. I’m not going to sit here and complain about a team that’s aggressive. But we have to understand how the refs are calling the game and then adjust to that. There’s a ton of physicality in the game, for sure. … But as far as teaching him, we got to look at the film and see where he can have better body position and pick up some charges.”

Antetokounmpo shot 13 of 17 from the free-throw line, while the Suns took 16 as a team.

“I’m not going to get into the complaining publicly about fouls. Just not going to do that,” Williams said. “But you can look — we had 16 free throws. One person had 17. So DA is — we got to learn from that. We got to beat guys to the spot. He’ll grow from this, I promise you he will.”

Phoenix is already missing forward Dario Saric (torn ACL). Forward Torrey Craig played on a sore right knee and stretch 5 Frank Kaminsky struggled. The Suns eventually resorted to using Crowder at center.


Antetokounmpo is only the second player in NBA history to have at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in back-to-back Finals games. Shaquille O’Neal is the other.

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