Suns vs. Clippers: How Phoenix exploited a little-known rule on Deandre Ayton’s incredible Game 2 winner

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The Western Conference finals continued in thrilling fashion on Tuesday night, as the Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 104-103, on Deandre Ayton’s last-second tip-in. With the win, the Suns are now up 2-0 in the series and Chris Paul hasn’t even played yet. With their leader expected to return for Game 3, they have a great chance to advance to the Finals for the first time since 1993.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s worth looking back at the incredible finish to Game 2. There were four lead changes in the final 30.9 seconds alone, all of which took approximately an hour to complete due to a number of challenges, including a controversial reversal that went against Devin Booker. 

That didn’t end up mattering in the end, though, because the Suns got the win in remarkable fashion. They did it thanks to a great play design, a perfect pass by Jae Crowder, a tough screen by Devin Booker and the exploitation of a little-known rule. Here’s how it happened.

Trailing by one with less than a second to play, the Suns had the ball and were taking it out underneath their own basket. While they technically had time for a catch-and-shoot, its difficult to execute one cleanly with that little time left, so Monty Williams drew up a play for a tip-in at the basket. 

To start things off, the Suns line up in a four-across formation at the free throw line. 

Suns start four across

When the ref hands Crowder the ball, they break to start the play. Ayton jumps out to set a screen for Cam Johnson, while Devin Booker looks to be cutting towards the ball. Mikal Bridges, meanwhile, flares to the weakside corner to create space. 

Ayton sets a screen, while Booker fakes like he’s cutting to the corner

All of that initial movement was just a decoy, however. Booker stops his cut and turns back to set a rock-solid screen for Ayton, who starts sprinting towards the basket. There are a few subtle things here that make the play work. First, Booker bumps Batum and gets him off balance so he can’t switch on the screen. Second, Ayton grabs Ivica Zubac’s jersey on the cut and guides him right into Booker. The latter could have been called for a foul, but the refs either didn’t see it, or let it go. 

Booker doubles back and screens for Ayton, who sprints to the rim

Once Ayton gets free, Crowder tosses a lob right to the rim, and this is where knowing the rule book favored the Suns. Crowder put the ball right over the cylinder, which meant all Ayton had to do was guide it home. Under any other circumstance, that would have been offensive goaltending and the basket would not have counted. But there is no offensive goaltending on inbounds plays, so this was perfectly legal and a good basket. 

Crowder throws a perfect pass

Here’s the video of the play:

Ayton finished the game with 24 points and 14 rebounds to continue an incredible run this postseason. In addition to making the biggest shot of his career, he recorded his fifth 20-10 game of the playoffs after having only nine such games in the entire regular season. 





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