PHOENIX — Deandre Ayton delivered the “take over” game the Phoenix Suns needed to upset their hated rival Saturday night.
The rookie 7-footer scored 26 points in leading the Suns to a 118-109 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Hitting 8-of-11 shots from the field, Ayton attempted 14 free throws and made 10. His final two free throws gave Phoenix a five-point lead with under a minute remaining after Los Angeles (30-33) cut what was a 19-point deficit to three.
Devin Booker added 25 points as the Suns (13-51) have won two of their last three since losing a franchise-record 17 straight games.
LeBron James scored a game-high 27 points, but missed two key free throws after Ayton made a pair. The Lakers have lost four of their last five and eight of 11 to fall 4½ games behind the Clippers for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
“Third quarter, we allowed them to jump on us and got up double digits,” James said. “It just wasn’t there throughout 48 (minutes) all night. That’s kind of like the frustrating part of it all. We had opportunities obviously, but wasn’t able to come through.
“Obviously we needed this game. We wanted to play well. At times we played well. … It’s just unfortunate, with the opportunity that we’ve had, we haven’t been able to seize that opportunity.”
Ayton grabbed the final rebound, his 10th, and screamed in celebration. After Phoenix lost at Cleveland to set the franchise record for losses, Ayton said it was time for him to take matters into his own hands.
“I gave them enough time to let them run what they got to run,” Ayton said. “Now I’m about to just take over now. It’s about that time to take over and not really look back.”
Four games later, Ayton did just that in helping the Suns beat the Lakers for the first time in the final game between the two teams this season.
This was the second of a back-to-back for both teams. Phoenix lost to New Orleans and Los Angeles fell to Milwaukee.
Duane Rankin writes for The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network.