NBA Finals 2021

NBA Finals 2021: Deandre Ayton's foul trouble underscores his importance in this series

After the first 12 minutes of Game 3, Deandre Ayton looked on track for another record-breaking Finals performance.

Recording 12 points on 6-of-7 from the field, the 22-year-old became the first center since Shaquille O'Neal (2004) to have 12 or more points in a Finals quarter as he feasted at the rim, drained mid-range jumpers and scored out of the pick-and-roll.

Such was the dominance of his impresive start, the tide bgan to turn once he ran into foul trouble, picking up his third foul with under 10 seconds to go in the second quarter and his fourth with 10:25 left in the third quarter.

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He sat out the remainder of period as the Bucks closed the third on a 16-0 run. Antetokounmpo scored 16 of his 41 points in the quarter on 4-of-5 shooting an 8-of-9 at the free throw line.

When Ayton checked back into the game, the Bucks had built a 22-point lead, with Antetokounmpo feasting at the rim in his absence.

"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."

Ayton, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting, scored just two points after the 9:35 mark of the second quarter. While his absence during key stretches was felt by the Suns, head coach Monty Williams took it as a learning oportunity ahead of Game 4.

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"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."

PLAYER RATINGS: Bucks dominate Game 3

Ayton has shown not just in this series, but throughout the playoffs how valuable he is to the Suns on both ends of the floor, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo playing at an elite level on the offensive end, the Suns defence can't afford to lose Ayton and rely on their backup bigs or smaller lineups.

The Suns will look to bounce back in Game 4 in Milwaukee on Wednesday, July 14, with tip-off at 9:00 p.m. ET

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