The Phoenix Suns pulled off a borderline miraculous 104-103 victory over the Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday, and Chris Paul was loving every second of it watching from Los Angeles, where he remains in COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
When Paul George went to the free-throw line with 8.2 seconds the play and the Clippers leading by one, it didn’t look good for the Suns. George had already missed three free throws in the game, and as an 89-percent free-throw shooter in these playoffs, the law of averages was bound to play out. You figured George would hit at least one, but he clanked them both.
That opened the door for Phoenix to win the game with a 2-pointer. After Mikal Bridges missed a corner 3-pointer and the ball was batted out of bounds (determined to be Phoenix ball after a long replay), the Suns had one last chance to inbound from the baseline with 0.9 seconds to play.
This was Phoenix head coach Monty Williams’ time to shine, and without a timeout, he took advantage of the replay downtime to draw up the perfect last-second play, which resulted in an incredible Deandre Ayton game-winning alley-oop.
This is when knowing the rule book to the letter pays off. You’ll notice that Jae Crowder’s pass is right over the basket when Ayton guides it home. Had that not been an inbounds pass, that bucket would’ve been waved off on account of offensive goaltending. But there is no such thing as offensive goaltending on an inbounds pass. All Ayton had to do was get a fingernail on a ball that looked like it might’ve been going in on its own for it to count. He did more than that, and Paul shouted out Williams’ play call on Twitter.
Crowder deserves a ton of credit for that pass, but indeed, Williams pushed the right button with the play call. He knew the Clippers would be preoccupied with Devin Booker. Watch the video again, and you’ll see Booker is the one setting the back screen to free up Ayton’s path to the rim. Nicolas Batum was covering Booker, and had he not been so worried about Booker popping out for a jump shot after setting the screen, he could’ve slid over to cut off Ayton and/or contest Crowder’s pass. Williams used Booker as a decoy, and it was that threat that opened up the game-winning dunk.
From the design to the execution, you have to love that ending — unless you’re the Clippers, who have gone in an 0-2 hole for the third straight series with Paul very well making his return in Game 3.