Anatomy of a Game: Inside the Valley-Oop That Gave the Suns a 2-0 Series Lead


The piece will be titled “Deandre Ayton and the Valley-Oop”.

But what about the appeal of Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams?

Down one with 0.9 seconds left in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night, there was little Williams and the Suns could do. From a basic out of bounds position, they basically had two options: throw a pass to a star player (i.e. Devin Booker) in the strong side corner, or perform some sort of throwing action. an eye at the rim.

Phoenix went with the latter, and it worked perfectly.

For Ayton to be free, a lot had to go well. The Suns had to lure the action into something that could get the Los Angeles Clippers moving, dissuading them from focusing on the basket. Then they had to do the dirty work – in this case, Booker’s screen – in order to get the slight spacing Ayton needed to tilt her body over Los Angeles center Ivica Zubac.

And then, of course, the pass. Suns forward Jae Crowder had to place the ball on the silver, where Ayton could get his hands on Zubac and the rim. Everything worked out well and Phoenix took the victory.

“It’s just one of those things that happens and you’re just grateful for it,” Williams said.

Williams has been very modest on his situational play appeal this season. On Tuesday, he said he wasn’t bright enough to create the game, instead stealing it from former Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown and former Suns assistant coach Joe Prunty. But his awareness of time, staff and game management is something he and Suns fans shouldn’t take for granted.

With 0.9 seconds left on the clock, Phoenix must have realized the potential clashes on the court. Since the Suns were in a precarious position, they were likely to face a greater range of Clippers, looking to deny the rim. We saw him with 6-foot-10 cross Demarcus Cousins ​​on Crowder out of bounds and Zubac pressed against Ayton at the left elbow.

This is where the Suns took advantage of the positioning of the Clippers. For some reason, Zubac, apparently at the discretion of Los Angeles coach Ty Lue, is more concerned about being tight against Ayton – who shot 40.0 and 20.0 percent on shots mid-range. -distance and 3 points, respectively, in the regular season. – than to protect the rim. Ayton filters Clippers forward Paul George, allowing substitute forward Cameron Johnson to bend over the break and remove George, one of the league’s most versatile defensemen, from the game.

Then the Suns arrest Zubac for playing high. If he had stepped back and opened his feet perpendicular to Crowder, he probably would have seen Booker arrive to set up a punishing rear screen. Instead, Zubac remains stuck in the action, allowing Ayton to dive towards the rim while Clippers forward Nicolas Batum does not change. Batum was assigned to guard and stay with Booker, the only guy on the pitch for the Suns with game winners on his resume.

At this point, it’s up to Crowder to pass a pass and Ayton to finish. But that’s where the thoroughness of the play comes to fruition.

Notice how Cousins ​​keeps the ball. His body is parallel to the baseline, negating anything that happens in the strong side corner. It’s great for defending a pop – think of the winner of LeBron James’ game against the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals – but there’s a smaller jet lag here.

Cousins’ angling gives Crowder a clear vision to throw the ball over the backboard and into Ayton’s hands. But notice how it’s not just Booker’s screen that clears Ayton – it’s also Suns starting forward Mikal Bridges floating into the weak side corner, pulling Clippers goalkeeper Patrick Beverley from a position where he is. can make a contest.

That’s the value of having versatile wings. Beverley needs to make some commitment to Bridges, who shot 43.5% on 3 points from the right corner in the regular season. He’s covering up too much as it’s an almost impossible pass for Crowder from the left baseline, but there’s a threat nonetheless.

And this action for Johnson earlier? It is a decoy. George needs to keep Johnson over the break given his shooting prowess, but the game is not for him. He simply walks away to the other side of the floor, leading George away from the facility.

The rest is a matter of execution. The crowd delivered a beautiful going on – he actually almost touched the back panel, as seen on the camera angle below – and Ayton tapped the dunk to prevent Zubac from catching him in midair. This is exactly what Williams encouraged.

With no downtime remaining, the Clippers had to keep this formation on the ground, limiting their spacing on a full heave of the pitch.

The rest from there is history. George couldn’t shoot in time and the Suns escaped with a one-point win to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference final.

With the green light, Ayton finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds, his fifth game of 20 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs. He is only one game away from Suns legend Charles Barkley for most games in a single playoff series with at least 20 points on 65% shots and 10 rebounds (five) in the history of the franchise.

After the match, Ayton gave Crowder full credit for the play’s success.

“I’m going to start off by saying that he’s definitely Jae’s game winner, making a great pass on a 7-footer,” said Ayton. “Other than that, the coach put together a great game where I was in the best position, my teammates trust me and my coaches trust me. And Book put up a big screen that set me free in the lane to at least gather my feet and go up for the ball. And the rest comes from my athleticism and talent.

During Thursday’s pre-game availability with reporters, Crowder said he was looking to target an area for Ayton’s arrival, which was made possible by the successful actions throughout the play. .

“A lot of things had to be going right,” Crowder said. “But we had other options. Obviously, DA was the first. It was my first option, but I had other options to consider once I wasn’t going to pass the ball to DA. I had a few options, but once I saw Book get a good clip from Zubac I knew I had a chance to have him there, he had a chance to jump clean and have a chance to win the game.

Phoenix will look to take a 3-0 lead over the Clippers on Thursday night, as the series moves to Los Angeles. The Suns will have playmaker Chris Paul available after missing the first two games of the series due to health and safety protocols.

Given how close the series is – there have been 30 combined header changes and 21 times there have been ties in Games 1 and 2 – Phoenix might need another big call from Williams. His players will expect him to deliver.

“Took everyone: Jae the passer-by, Deandre setting up his man, Coach Monty believed in him and believed in us to handle this,” Booker said. “It was a big game for us. Anytime you can get a playoff win, especially a close win like that, I think that’s important for the momentum.


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