PHOENIX (AP) — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.
On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.
The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton's scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.
“I don't know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. "I should have been over there.”
Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker's miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.
“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It's just good to see the work pay off. It's good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That's pretty impressive.”
Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar'e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.
“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I'm just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”
Curiously, the Jazz didn't foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn't unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.
“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.
Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.
Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.
“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You've got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity — learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”
The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.
The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Jazz: G Leandro Bolmaro (concussion), G Mike Conley (left knee) and F Rudy Gay (left hand) were not available. ... Three players scored in double figures off the bench. Malik Beasley had 14 points, Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 12 and Talen Horton-Tucker added 10.
Suns: G Landry Shamet returned after missing the previous seven games with a concussion. ... Booker shot just 3 of 13 from the field in the first half. ... Hosted a sellout crowd for the 38th consecutive game. ... Jock Landale played just five minutes in the game and all came in the fourth quarter. He scored four crucial points.
Jazz: Host the Bulls on Monday.
Suns: At Sacramento on Monday.
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