Deandre Ayton was engaged in Game 4, which is necessary for Phoenix Suns’ title hopes

Deandre Ayton was engaged in Game 4, which is necessary for Phoenix Suns’ title hopes

Deandre Ayton

Ayton did not have the points to stand out in the second half but was engaged throughout, something the Suns and fans should be proud of

Deandre Ayton might not listen to it, but the noise is always ringing through his ears.

Ayton is the Phoenix Suns’ most criticized starter. He has very high expectations given he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft, but those ideas have become excessive to some degree.

Ayton has averaged a double-double in each of his five NBA seasons, but some fans are still screaming at him to turn into the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson, who he was compared to once he left Arizona after one college season.

Ayton may not be perfect, but he is important. The Suns prioritized him often in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series, and it led to engagement from Ayton that fans certainly crave.

Phoenix won the game, 112-100, at Arena in Los Angeles to take a 3-1 series lead over the Clippers. Most fans will remember superstar duo Kevin Durant and Devin Booker combining for 61 points. Even Chris Paul’s 12-point fourth quarter that included a trick shot from the corner will be laughed at before the Suns take the floor Tuesday for Game 5.

Ayton’s performance will not receive a lot of credit, but it should. He had his third straight double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass. He was engaged, which the Suns need him to be, and focused. If they get that from him nightly, it should be enough on his part to contribute to their first-ever championship.

Suns coach Monty Williams praised Ayton before Game 4 for finding ways to impact winning. Every fan won’t give him credit for it, but Ayton ranked No. 5 in defensive rebounds and No. 12 in offensive rebounds this postseason entering Saturday’s game. It may not be with the force of Joel Embiid, but it was enough to help the Suns take a 2-1 series lead.

Ayton was criticized in Game 3. He was the Suns’ only starter who had a negative plus/minus (minus-5) and made just 4-of-9 shots. Without Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles employed a five-guard lineup but Phoenix could not find its big, who bobbled a pass here and there and did not get extensive chances to assert himself.

After Booker’s 45-point performance in Game 3 and through a need to continue to integrate Durant, the Suns could have spammed the ball to their starters early. Instead, they made Ayton a priority.

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