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Deandre Ayton’s last-second dunk lifts Suns over Clippers

/ 02:12 PM June 23, 2021
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns and Mikal Bridges #25 celebrate defeating the LA Clippers 104-103 in game two of the NBA Western Conference finals

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns and Mikal Bridges #25 celebrate defeating the LA Clippers 104-103 in game two of the NBA Western Conference finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on June 22, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.  Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP

Two-tenths of a second was all the Phoenix Suns needed to pull off an escape Tuesday in a 104-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers that has them closer to a place they haven’t been in 28 years.

The Suns took a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals and need two more victories to get to their first NBA Finals since 1993.

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Standing in the way is a Los Angeles team that has never been this far in the playoffs but has pulled off consecutive series victories after trailing two games to none. The Clippers will have to overcome the shock of the Game 2 loss to make this a series.

With 0.9 seconds remaining and the Clippers up by one, Jae Crowder delivered an inbound alley-oop pass to Deandre Ayton, who slammed home the game-winner with 0.7 seconds left. The dunk gave the Suns a victory after a back-and-forth final minute full of clutch shots.

“The celebration was a little shaky because I wasn’t too sure what I did,” Ayton said. “I wasn’t sure if it counted, I didn’t want to be a blooper, none of that. I just wanted to get to the next play or for the refs to confirm what it is. I was so anxious. I was so stressed. It was a lot.”

Cameron Payne scored a career-high 29 points for the Suns, and Ayton contributed 24 points and 14 rebounds. Devin Booker scored 20 points, continuing to play after getting his nose bloodied late in the third quarter and receiving stitches.

The Suns increased their playoff winning streak to nine games.

Payne stepped up to make 12 of 24 shots from the field and had nine assists with no turnovers. He was starting at point guard for the second consecutive game with Chris Paul in health and safety protocol after he reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

“I’m just trying to hold it down,” Payne said. “(Paul) is calling. I probably have a missed call already. (Paul) is calling and that’s what he does. That’s why he is who he is. He’s in constant communication. … And that’s big time for our team.”

Paul George scored 26 points and Reggie Jackson added 19 for the Clippers. Los Angeles rallied to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and came back against the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the conference semifinals.

George missed a pair of free throws with 8.2 seconds remaining that gave the Suns a chance to win the game.

“I’m not going to put too much on that,” said George, who was 5 of 10 from the line on the night. “Obviously that was an opportunity that was missed. I’m always confident at the free-throw line and have always been very successful in clutch moments at the free-throw line. Tonight, I was just not successful. The fact of the matter is we were still in position to win late in the game.”

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns - Game Two

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns dunks the ball over Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers during the fourth quarter in game two of the NBA Western Conference finals on June 22, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP 

The Clippers were playing their fourth consecutive playoff game without forward Kawhi Leonard, who is sidelined due to a sprained right knee.

Game 3 is set for Thursday night in Los Angeles, where the Clippers have won their past four after losing their first three home contests to Dallas.

The Suns and Clippers traded the lead multiple times in the final minute Tuesday. Los Angeles took a 101-100 advantage with 30.9 seconds remaining on a layup by George that came after Ivica Zubac blocked Payne’s layup attempt. Zubac had 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Booker put the Suns back in front 102-101 on a contested jump shot from the elbow of the key with 27 seconds remaining, but George answered with an 18-foot jump shot for a 103-102 lead with 22.2 seconds left.

After Beverley forced Booker into a turnover with 9.3 seconds remaining, George could have given the Clippers a three-point advantage, but he missed two free throws.

Mikal Bridges missed a 3-point attempt with 3.3 seconds remaining that would have given the Suns the lead, but the Clippers tipped the ball out of bounds with under a second left. Crowder then lobbed the decisive inbound pass to Ayton.

Los Angeles could not get off another shot before the final horn sounded.

“I thought we played well and we had a chance to win the game,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “They won on a tip-in and now we have to go home and take care of business. We’ve been in this position (down 0-2) before, even though we hate it. But our guys competed and they made a big play at the end.”

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TAGS: Los Angeles Clippers, NBA, Phoenix Suns
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