In his third season with the Suns, Deandre Ayton has emerged as a key piece of a title contender. But it’s important to keep in mind that he will turn just 23 years old later this month, so a rough stretch can hit Ayton harder than a seasoned veteran.
During Phoenix’s 118-108 win over Milwaukee on Thursday night, Suns coach Monty Williams could sense his big man’s frustration. Ayton wasn’t making his usual impact through the first three quarters of Game 2, and Williams knew that it was his job to pull Ayton out of his funk.
The ABC broadcast shared footage of Williams’ pep talk to Ayton:
“This is the deal. One, you’re getting back in transition, if you don’t have Giannis [Antetokounmpo], find a man and be a guard. Two — look at me — you set a high level for yourself. That’s why you’re down. That’s great. Now go reach that level, OK? And you can reach it with force. It doesn’t have to be stats all the time. Go dominate the game with force, OK? Because you set a high level for yourself. Go dominate the game with force. Let’s go.”
Ayton responded with four points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block in the final quarter. In a postgame interview with NBA TV, Ayton, who got his 13th double-double of the playoffs in the victory (10 points, 11 rebounds), credited Williams for recognizing that he needed a little boost.
“I didn’t play the way I wanted to play, especially trying to finish around the rim. I didn’t rebound the way I wanted to rebound, and it kind of got to me a little bit,” Ayton said. “But I kept playing through it and kept chipping down and finding what I can do best for my team. Monty had seen it on me. I had my emotions on my shoulders a little bit, but he stopped me — because he knows me — and he just wanted to tell me a word of encouragement, and it got me going.”
The Suns will need that same force and intensity from Ayton as the NBA Finals shift to Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4. It shouldn’t be too hard for Ayton to reach that level again with a coach like Williams in his corner.
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