Heading into Thursday's game against the Rockets in Houston, the Phoenix Suns had a forgettable start to 2021.
After their win on New Year's Day in Denver, the team improved to 5-1 for the season and were tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the best record in the league but since then, it's been a different story.
They went 2-3 on their next five games including a 21-point loss in Washington D.C, and after that, they had three straight home games (vs. Hawks, vs. Warriors, vs. Pacers) postponed due to contact tracing. On MLK Day, they lost a winnable game in Memphis 108-104, which meant they had gone 2-4 since the 5-1 start.
The game in Houston, however, the team escaped with a 109-103 win - their first in H-Town since 2016 - and got back on track courtesy of a huge performance by young star center Deandre Ayton.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft balled out against the Rockets, finishing with 26 points (11-15 FGs; 4-4 FTs), 17 rebounds, a career-high five blocks, and three assists in just 36 minutes of action.
Those stat-sheet stuffing numbers made him only the second player in the last 30 years of the franchise to record at least 25 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks.
Deandre Ayton joins Shawn Marion as the only Suns players with 25 points, 15 rebounds & 5 blocks in a game over the last 30 seasons pic.twitter.com/d8n4LO3Vs2- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2021
Phoenix led for a majority of this game, and early in the third quarter, they were up by as many as 20. Including Ayton, the Suns had five players finish in double figures with the next best contribution coming from Devin Booker - 24 points (11-18 FGs).
For the Rockets, Victor Oladipo did put up 22 points, six assists, and three steals on his home debut but struggled to shoot efficiently from the field.
"He was a monster for us," Suns coach Monty Williams said postgame. "In respect to DA, anytime he can have that effect on the defensive end, it just gives us a lot of juice."
.@DeandreAyton said NOPE x2! pic.twitter.com/LfO6bwzPsU- Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 21, 2021
Coach Williams credited Ayton's performance on the defensive end to his time in the weight room but team All-Star Booker wanted to see more.
"I want to see more," Booker said postgame. "I want to see more, and that's what I told him [Ayton]."
Ayton replicated Booker's attitude when asked about his play - "To be honest, I think I did what I was supposed to do tonight.".
In the postgame on-court interview, the 22-year-old shouted-out 15-year veteran Chris Paul for his leadership and how that's helped him.
"The leadership he brings, and how he approaches the game is just contagious."- NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 21, 2021
-Deandre Ayton to @MarkJonesESPN on how CP3 has helped him pic.twitter.com/qXUpM0zUWf
On a jam-packed slate of games on Thursday, Ayton was just one of the multiple under-25-year-old stars that stole the headlines!
🌟 UNDER 25 & DOING WORK 🌟- NBA (@NBA) January 21, 2021
🌟 COLE wins it at the buzzer
🌟 SEXTON 20 straight in OT & 2OT
🌟 LUKA 2nd-fastest to 30 trip-dubs
🌟 TRAE 38 PTS & 10 AST in OT W
🌟 AYTON 26 PTS, 17 REB, 5 BLK
🌟 WISEMAN dunk after dunk, 20 PTS pic.twitter.com/1DgL7pAkch
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