Tuesday's NBA playoffs: Ayton soars for last second alley-oop, Suns beat Clippers

David Brandt
Associated Press

Phoenix — Deandre Ayton jammed an alley-oop pass from Jae Crowder with 0.7 seconds left, giving the Phoenix Suns a thrilling 104-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

The Suns were down one with 0.9 seconds left when Crowder lofted a high pass on an out-of-bounds play on the baseline. A soaring Ayton came down the lane and stuffed it through the net over L.A.’s Ivica Zubac as the crowd roared in disbelief at Phoenix Suns Arena.

The referees spent about a minute reviewing the play before ruling the basket was good. The Clippers couldn’t get a shot off in the final 0.7 seconds.

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, right, scores over Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Phoenix.

The Suns now have a 2-0 lead in the series heading to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Thursday night. The Clippers will be fighting from a 2-0 deficit for the third time in these playoffs after rallying to beat the Mavericks and Jazz in the first two rounds.

The Crowder-to-Ayton connection negated a Clippers rally that was led by Paul George, who had 26 points.

George made a layup with 31 seconds left to give the Clippers a 101-100 lead for their first advantage since early in the third quarter. Suns guard Devin Booker responded with a jumper of his own with 27 seconds left.

George calmly took the ball on the next possession and drilled a long two-pointer for a 103-102 lead.

But there was a lot more action left.

George missed two free throws with 8.2 seconds remaining and the Suns had a chance to win, but it looked as if it wouldn’t happen when Mikal Bridges missed a corner 3-pointer and the ball was deflected out of bounds.

Instead, it set up Crowder’s heave to Ayton, who was dominant in the paint all night.

The Suns have won nine straight in the playoffs, which is a franchise record.

The Suns were led by Cameron Payne, who was brilliant while subbing for All-Star Chris Paul. He finished with a career-high 29 points. Ayton had 22 points and 14 rebounds, while Booker added 20 points.

Payne repeatedly carved through the Clippers defense, making tough buckets at the rim with pretty left-handed finishes. He made what looked like a crucial layup with about 90 seconds left, finishing high off the glass to give the Suns a 100-95 lead.

But the gritty Clippers responded and nearly pulled this one out.

It was a tough night for the stars from Game 1 until the final minutes. Booker shot just 5 of 16 from the field and missed part of the third quarter with a bloody nose. George was 10 of 23 from the field and missed his first seven 3-point attempts before his late buckets.

Ayton continued his eye-opening performance in these playoffs. The No. 1 overall pick in 2018 out of Arizona often has been overshadowed by later picks in the same draft like Atlanta’s Trae Young and Dallas’ Luka Doncic. But he has carved out quite a niche in Phoenix and now has a play that will live in franchise lore.

The Suns were playing without Paul for the second straight game. The 11-time All-Star has been in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol for the past week and the team isn’t sure when he’ll return.

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard missed his fourth straight game with a right knee sprain, and he stayed in Los Angeles to get treatment on the injury.

The action was physical from the opening minutes. Referee Scott Foster gave technicals to Suns forward Jae Crowder and Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. after some jawing following a scrum for a loose ball.

The Suns took a 48-47 halftime lead, largely thanks to Payne and Ayton. Payne led all scorers with 16 points before the break, thriving in his role as the fill-in starter for Paul. Ayton added 12 points, punctuated by a soaring alley-oop dunk over Zubac.

NBA Playoff glance

CONFERENCE FINALS

Eastern Conference

Wednesday, June 23: Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m.

Friday, June 25: Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 27: Milwaukee at Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, June 29: Milwaukee at Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.

x-Thursday, July 1: Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m.

x-Saturday, July 3: Milwaukee at Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.

x-Monday, July 5: Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m.

Western Conference

Phoenix 2, L.A. Clippers 0

Sunday, June 20: Phoenix 120, L.A. Clippers 114

Tuesday, June 22: Phoenix 104, L.A. Clippers 103

Thursday, June 24: Phoenix at L.A. Clippers, 9 p.m.

Saturday, June 26: Phoenix at L.A. Clippers, 9 p.m.

x-Monday, June 28: L.A. Clippers at Phoenix, 9 p.m.

x-Wednesday, June 30: Phoenix at L.A. Clippers, 9 p.m.

x-Friday, July 2: L.A. Clippers at Phoenix, 9 p.m.

NBA FINALS

(Best-of-7)

Conference Finals winners, TBA