Center Deandre Ayton hardly a question mark for the Phoenix Suns

LOS ANGELES — Not many players walked away from Game 4 of the Western Conference finals with an efficient scoring night.

It was an ugly, brick-shooting affair the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns were embroiled in on Saturday night at Staples Center.

But the difference-maker was one of the rare players who had a dominant evening as it was big man Deandre Ayton who led the Suns to an 84-80 win to give his team a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Ayton recorded 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting, a career-high 22 rebounds and four blocks in 41 minutes.

“To see his growth, I get goosebumps,” Chris Paul said of his teammate. “I’m proud of him.”

The Suns shot 36% and the Clippers hit at a rate of 32.5%, making it an excruciating ball game to watch. There were multiple scoring droughts throughout, which made Ayton’s contribution all the more important.

And what fueled his fire going into Game 4 was Clippers center Ivica Zubac.

“I’m going to be honest, I got outplayed last game,” Ayton said. “Zubac did a great job controlling the glass and being a presence at both ends of the floor. It was up to me to get in front of that, compete and challenge that. I just tried my best. That’s it. I tried my best to be relentless on the glass and really tried to control both ends of the floor.”

Deandre Ayton had a career-high 22 rebounds in Game 4 for the Phoenix Suns. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Deandre Ayton had a career-high 22 rebounds in Game 4 for the Phoenix Suns. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The No. 1 overall pick in 2018 has had a memorable playoff run and his finish as part of the “Valley-Oop” is already stamped as an iconic franchise moment. His consistency has been key to the Suns’ success despite this being his first taste of postseason action.

Luka Doncic and Trae Young are the two players notoriously mentioned when the 2018 class is brought up.

No one knew what to expect from Ayton when it was time for postseason play. And he used that as motivation.

“The world having me as a question mark in the playoffs. That got to me a little bit,” Ayton acknowledged. “I wanted to change that [narrative]. That’s about it. A question mark on me? I wanted to change that and prove everybody wrong.”

Head coach Monty Williams has done an amazing job pushing all the right buttons and Chris Paul has put on a masterclass on leadership in working with largely a young, inexperienced roster.

The youth has been getting it done, and Ayton is grateful for the role Paul has played in honing his game.

“I love CP,” he said. That’s really the only teammate that pushed me like big bro-type push. Knowing what I got that I never thought that I had. He was the best thing that happened to my career.”

The Suns are one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years. Game 5 is Monday in Phoenix.

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