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Josh Taylor becomes undisputed champion at 140; how good is he, and what’s next for him?

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Josh Taylor becomes undisputed champion at 140; how good is he, and what's next for him?

The difference between good and great fighters is the ability to make adjustments on the fly. And that ability is what separated Josh Taylor from Jose Ramirez on Saturday night as the Scottish fighter became the fifth undisputed champion in the four-belt era with a unanimous decision victory over Ramirez in Las Vegas.

Taylor joined Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford and Oleksandr Usyk as the only fighters to hold all four world titles in a weight class at the same time. It wasn’t simply that he pulled off the feat by upending the previously unbeaten Ramirez; it was how he went about his business.

UNDISPUTED VS. UNIFIED: Explaining the different types of champions

For the first five rounds, Ramirez appeared to have found the winning formula for handing Taylor his first defeat. He bulled forward, barreled into the champion and repeatedly drilled him with power shots as he attacked the body. Instead of wilting, Taylor took notes. In the sixth, he made an adjustment that changed the dynamic of the fight.

Taylor decided to hold his ground instead of retreating when Ramirez made his move forward. Recognizing that Ramirez didn’t alter his approach, Taylor dipped to his left and fired a left hand that caught his opponent flush on the chin. Ramirez’s own momentum, coupled with Taylor’s accuracy, sent the Fresno, Calif., fighter to the canvas.

Ramirez didn’t seem to be hurt by the punch, but it sent a clear message that Taylor’s adjustment would pay off for him if Ramirez continued to do things the same way.

The seventh round really took the wind out of Ramirez’s sails. Part of the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of referee Kenny Bayless, who routinely injected himself into the fight whenever Taylor and Ramirez clinched. Rather than allowing them to fight on the inside, Bayless would quickly look to break them up.

Taylor recognized that Ramirez would relax his guard when Bayless drew near, and so he waited for the right moment to uncork a beautiful uppercut that dropped Ramirez to the canvas and hurt him badly.

The fight was never the same after that. Ramirez knew only one way to fight while Taylor made the proper adjustments.

If there was one thing that Taylor did wrong down the stretch, it was taking his foot off the gas in the championship rounds and allowing Ramirez to win rounds. Nevertheless, the end result was a 114-112 decision for Taylor, who is now recognized as the undisputed king of the junior welterweight division.

How good is Josh Taylor?

Well, his last five opponents — Ryan Martin, Ivan Baranchyk, Regis Prograis, Apinun Khongson and Jose Ramirez — had a combined 97-0 record before facing him. By comparison, Crawford’s journey to becoming undisputed at 140 pounds included him defeating Thomas Dulorme (22-1), Viktor Postol (28-0) and Julius Indongo (22-0). One could argue that Taylor’s opposition in the division was slightly tougher than Crawford’s.

The 30-year-old Taylor joins a new generation of fighters who are wasting little time challenging the best in their division. He is the second-fastest fighter to become an undisputed champion, doing it after just his 18th professional fight. It took Hopkins 49 fights, Crawford needed 32 fights and Jermain Taylor accomplished the feat in his 24th bout. Only Usyk became undisputed faster than Taylor as the Ukrainian accomplished it in his 15th fight.

Bottom line: Taylor is now in elite company and the boxing world will have to acknowledge his greatness.

What’s next for Josh Taylor?

Now that he has effectively captured all of the titles, he can either move up to 147 pounds and challenge himself against one of boxing’s deepest divisions, or he can turn his attention to Gervonta Davis’ debut at 140 pounds on June 26 vs. Mario Barrios. Should Davis come out victorious, a battle between Taylor and “Tank” would easily garner the Scottish champion the most attention he has ever had.

Both options are tantalizing, but there’s no need to rush. For now, Taylor can head back to his home country as one of the best fighters in the world and a fighter who just etched his name into the history books.

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton's game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

Deandre Ayton was the hero for the Suns in their Game 2 win over the Clippers.

With less than a second left on the clock, the Suns were down one point and had just 0.9 seconds to get a shot off. Jae Crowder inbounded the ball on the baseline under the Suns’ basket and found Ayton cutting to the hoop.

Ayton threw it down. The play took just 0.2 seconds off the clock and sealed the 104-103 win for the Suns.

Here’s a look at the amazing finish.

Ayton and Crowder deserve a bulk of the credit, but Devin Booker had an impact on the finish as well. His physical screen on Ivica Zubac — who is seven inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than Booker — gave Ayton just enough space to get open off the cut and throw down the dunk.

And Booker put his body on the line despite playing with a bloodied nose that required stitches after an inadvertent hit from Patrick Beverley earlier in the game.

The Suns’ finish thrilled Phoenix fans as well as the team’s star point guard Chris Paul, who missed his second straight game in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He took time to celebrate the victory on Twitter and praised coach Monty Williams for his “big-time play call.”

Indeed, it was a nice play call, and Williams made sure Ayton was prepared to dunk immediately after catching the ball.

“DA — if he throws it, you gotta try to dunk it,” Williams said. “Okay?”

Ayton was ready and obliged. As a result of his make, NBA Twitter erupted and celebrated the exciting end to yet another tightly-contested playoff battle. 

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn’t apply on Deandre Ayton’s dunk

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn't apply on Deandre Ayton's dunk

Back in December 2017, the Suns and Grizzlies found themselves in a down-to-the-wire contest. Phoenix had the ball with just 0.6 seconds on the clock and the game tied at 97.

So what did then-Suns coach Jay Triano do? He unveiled a play that he had kept in his back pocket for years.

MORE: Chris Paul reacts to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk

While standing on the sideline near the Grizzlies’ bench, Dragan Bender threw a pass toward Tyson Chandler that floated directly above the rim, giving Chandler the opportunity to slam it through the bottom of the net. Wait, you can do that?

“You cannot goaltend a ball that isn’t going to count,” Triano told reporters after the game.

More than three years later, Triano’s words were once again ringing throughout Phoenix Suns Arena. Coach Monty Williams drew up a similar play on Tuesday night, and his players executed it perfectly to give the Suns a stunning 104-103 win over the Clippers and a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.

Look at this beauty:

OK, let’s break down what NBA TV’s Matt Winer called “The Valley Oop.” (Great work, Matt).

First, notice the positioning of DeMarcus Cousins. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue made a smart move by putting Cousins on Jae Crowder in order to make an inbound pass more difficult, but Cousins is squared up to Crowder, opening up the passing lane Crowder needs.

As for the action in the paint, Devin Booker sets a terrific screen on Ivica Zubac, allowing Deandre Ayton to break free. Could Nicolas Batum have bumped Ayton and recovered? Possibly, but he is understandably concerned with leaving Booker.

(NBA)

Once Ayton gets a step on Zubac running toward the basket, it’s on Crowder to put the ball in a spot in which Ayton can score. As you can see from the angle below, Crowder just narrowly avoids the backboard. The placement here is simply incredible.

“That’s definitely Jae’s game-winner,” Ayton said after the game.

deandre ayton suns play
(NBA)

Now, you may still be asking, “But why isn’t that a goaltending violation?”

As the NBA explained in its Last Two Minute Report from that December 2017 game, “Goaltending rules do not apply because (Chandler) makes contact with the ball off of a throw-in and not a live ball that has already legally been touched on the playing court.” Scott Foster, who served as the crew chief on Tuesday, offered the same explanation when asked about Ayton’s dunk.

Sometimes less than a second can be all the time in the world. Just ask any Suns fan.

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Clippers’ Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

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Clippers' Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

The box score from Tuesday’s Suns-Clippers game — a pivotal Game 2 win for Phoenix in the Western Conference finals — will show Paul George had a decent game.

Twenty-six points, on 10-of-23 shooting; six assists; six rebounds; and 5-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. He also scored his team’s last six points, all within the last minute, to help the Clippers to a 103-102 lead with just 8.2 seconds remaining.

The only stats that ultimately mattered in the Clippers’ 104-103 loss, however, were the final two free throws George — a career 84.7-percent free throw shooter — missed. They ultimately allowed Phoenix a chance at an unbelievable comeback victory, which may prove costly even as the series heads back to LA.

NBA MOCK DRAFT 2021: Who will Pistons, Rockets take with top picks?

Had George sunk both of those shots, the Suns would have needed a 3-pointer just to send the game to overtime. Had he sunk even one shot, they would have needed a 2-pointer. But he missed both, allowing the Suns to win on an inbound dunk with less than a second remaining:

Credit to Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and the Suns. That play will go down as one of the top plays in NBA playoffs history. But every heartbreaking loss needs a goat, and no one fits the bill better than “Playoff P,” who could have secured a win for his team with the simplest of basketball scoring plays.

Here’s the bright side for the Clippers, if there is one: They have already overcome 2-0 deficits in each of their first two series against the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively. That’s likely a cold comfort as George and Co. head back to LA, however. The scathing Twitter comments aimed at George likely won’t do anything to help, either:

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