Suns’ Jock Landale defends Deandre Ayton after Game 3 struggles

AP Photo/Matt York

Phoenix Suns backup center Jock Landale found himself closing Game 3 of Suns versus Nuggets alongside Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, TJ Warren, and Landry Shamet.

The unconventional five shut the door on Denver’s comeback bid and gave the Suns their first win of the series (2-1, DEN).

In a game where Landale (6 points, 3/3 FG, 9 rebounds, 22 min) absolutely outplayed starting center Deandre Ayton (4 points, 9 rebounds, 26 min) in terms of energy and hustle, head coach Monty Williams made the difficult decision of benching Ayton for Landale with 4:57 left to play in the fourth quarter.

“Jock was giving us great energy,” Williams said. “His pressure on the rim, just in transition, opened up a ton of lanes for all of our guys to attack the paint tonight…He just scrapped…Even when he was guarding the ‘smalls,’ he just competed.”

As you could imagine – Ayton wasn’t thrilled with the decision.

When Landale was asked about the criticism Ayton has received this season and this series, in particular, Landale came to his teammate’s defense.

“It’s tough for me to sit back and just be okay with all the slander that’s thrown DA’s way,” Landale said. “People are making him out to be like he’s a selfish individual who is playing terribly all the time and hurts the Phoenix Suns but it’s Deandre Ayton…I’m kind of sick of everyone s–ting on him nonstop. I know it comes with the business and I know that’s your guys’ job…but DA’s been f–king great for us.”

Once Ayton re-gained his composure, he started cheering for Landale and his guys again.

“For him to do that for me when he could’ve very easily been pissy…DA’s a great teammate,” Landale said. “He’s a great locker room guy and I hear time and time again how this guy doesn’t do that and it’s just bulls–t…If you watch when me and Bizzy are in the game and we do something well, DA is the first dude off that bench to stand up and clap.”

Landale answered questions regarding Ayton’s hustle as well.

“DA’s got an incredible motor, I haven’t seen an athlete like that in a long time,” Landale said. “Sometimes, the way the game flows, he gets a little bit frustrated…We try to keep on him about proving why he’s got that max contract and why he’s the number one draft pick…I understand a little bit of it but at the same time it’s a tough transition for him coming from being a focal point of an offense and now he’s got Kevin Durant and Devin Booker sitting up there in their 50 points a night and he’s gotta change his game.”

The team’s superstars also chimed in on Ayton’s struggles postgame:

“Keep encouraging,” Durant said. “DA just wants to be out there. He wants to contribute, wants to play well every single night. Sometimes that can be a little frustrating when you don’t get the opportunity to showcase what you can do sometimes, but that’s just the nature of a team. We got a team where the next guy gotta step up and everyone’s looking to support.”

“We’ve been around long enough to understand every night’s not gonna be your night,” Booker said. “Energy and effort always has to be high, especially around this time. You can’t get flustered. You can’t get in your own head and I could see that a little bit with [Ayton] today so it’s my job to pump him up – it’s next possession.”

Ayton will have his chance to bounce back Sunday at 5 pm as the Suns host the Nuggets for Game 4.