Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton takes the spotlight.
Context: A thrilling end to another thrilling game.
Despite not having Chris Paul for the second straight game, the Suns outlasted the LA Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 2-0 series lead.
On a night where Devin Booker struggled (5-16 FG, seven turnovers), it was Cameron Payne and Deandre Ayton who stepped up for the Suns. Whereas Payne led the way with 29 points and nine assists, Ayton posted a 24-point, 14-rebound double-double on 12-for-15 shooting from the field.
Oh, and Ayton scored the game-winning basket on an incredible play drawn up by Suns head coach Monty Williams. (I sort of buried the lead there).
You know what that means - to the film room!
Breakdown: The Suns trail the Clippers 103-102 with 0.9 seconds remaining in the game.
On the court for the Suns are Booker, Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Ayton. On the floor for the Clippers are Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, DeMarcus Cousins and Ivica Zubac.
The Suns have Crowder inbounding the ball while Booker, Johnson, Bridges and Ayton line up like so:
As soon as the referee hands the ball to Crowder, Ayton moves towards Johnson on the wing to set a screen on his defender.
Meanwhile, Booker takes a couple of steps towards the basket and Bridges clears out to the right corner.
Here's where the magic happens.
Booker, busted up nose and all, goes to set a mammoth of a screen on Ayton's defender, Zubac.
Booker's screen doesn't force a switch, but it does create the separation Ayton needs to get a runway to the basket.
Zubac recovers in time to make a play on the ball, but he's not able to prevent Ayton from getting a dunk off of Crowder's pass.
"Jae set it up right there perfectly," Ayton said after the game. "I tried to set up Zubac for Book to have a good angle on him. And I believe once my feet touch the paint where I can go off right-left, one-two, I mean, not many people are gonna be up there with me."
Why it matters: A number of reasons.
One, what a pass from Crowder.
He's not even someone who is known for his passing ability - he's averaging 1.6 assists per game in his NBA career - but this was one of two jaw-dropping dimes he threw in Game 2.
The other one? An alley-oop ... to Ayton ... for a dunk ... over Zubac.
Two, what a screen from Booker.
Not only because he was dealing with a pretty gnarly facial injury - you saw what his nose looked like after the game, right? - but because he's giving up a decent amount of size to Zubac. Whereas Booker is listed at 6-foot-5 and 206 pounds, Zubac is listed at 7-feet and 240 pounds.
As Payne said, there are a lot of players who wouldn't have put themselves in that position.
"That's an unselfish play by him," Payne said of Booker's screen. "He sacrificed, made a screen and somebody else scored. A lot of players won't do that."
Three, notice how Zubac received no help from his teammates?
The screen Ayton set on Johnson to begin the possession was key, because it opened up the right side of the court. Williams revealed after the game that had Ayton not gotten open, the other option was for Booker to pop to the ball-side corner for a jump shot. (Booker didn't have it rolling in this game, but this is your reminder that he was one of the league's best midrange shooters this season and that he lives for these moments).
Based on where Batum positioned himself, it's safe to assume that's what he was expecting.
Also, notice where Beverley and George were?
Beverley had one foot in the paint but didn't want to leave Bridges alone in the corner for good reason. (Bridges made 43.5 percent of his 3-point attempts from the right corner in the regular season. Yeah ... pretty good). Similar deal with George. He ran to the paint when he noticed what was happening, but Johnson being the 3-point shooter that he is forced George to chase him around Ayton's initial screen.
Four, this isn't the first time we've seen this play.
Something else Williams revealed is that the play he drew up was a blend of something former Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown used to run and a game-winner from Tyson Chandler back in the 2017-18 season.
"I wish I was that bright, but I'm not," Williams said. "I steal from everybody."
That looks familiar 👀- Tyson Chandler (@tysonchandler) June 23, 2021
As Chandler explained, a little-known rule is that there is no goaltending on an out of bounds play, which is why Ayton was able to grab the ball above the cylinder. It says something that Rajon Rondo, who has the reputation of being one of the smartest players in the league, wasn't even aware of it.
The funny part? Even Ayton couldn't believe it when Williams told him the rule.
"I've never been in this position before," Ayton said. "I just knew to put the ball in the hoop right now. If you didn't know that - I worried (it wasn't legal) but I did what coach told me to do."
Last but not least, the Suns now have a 2-0 series lead heading to Los Angeles, and Phoenix is reportedly hopeful that Paul will return for Game 3. The Suns still have a lot of business to take care of - this is now the third time the Clippers have been in this position in these playoffs - but Ayton's dunk punctuated another big win for them.
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