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With NHL Draft lottery win, Sabres have chance to take franchise from dumpster fire to respectability

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With NHL Draft lottery win, Sabres have chance to take franchise from dumpster fire to respectability

When NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly turned over the card at Wednesday’s 2021 NHL Draft Lottery to show that the Sabres would hold the No. 1 overall pick in July’s draft, Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams looked like a happy guy — for a second. Then, he looked like a guy who just got the weight of the world put on his shoulders.

“It was a challenging season, lot of adversity,” Adams said. “We were in the position we were in, and you certainly don’t want to be there, but that’s the reality. . . . To have this fall our way, to be in this position it’s, oh, it makes some of the things we went through this year feel a little bit better about it. It’s a huge opportunity for our franchise to improve. I feel like this is a really big step, something we needed and [are] excited about.”

“Challenging season” is an understatement. Things have not been good in Western New York for quite a while.

Sure, the Sabres have had good teams and Hall of Famers in the past, but recent memory erases that. Since the 1999 Stanley Cup Final run, they’ve only been to the playoffs six times. The last time the Sabres made the postseason was in 2011, when Buffalo lost in seven games to Philadelphia in the opening round. Since then, the club has finished last in its division in five of the last 10 seasons.

MORE: Full NHL Draft lottery results

The Sabres found themselves at the bottom of the division again in 2021 despite adding Taylor Hall (who, by the way, may have done his draft lottery magic here once again) in the offseason. Hall scored just two goals and tallied 19 points in 37 games before being shipped at the trade deadline to the playoff-bound Bruins. Ralph Krueger was fired as the head coach after 28 games and then, during his last media availability of the season, Jack Eichel voiced his displeasure.

“There’s been a bit of a disconnect from the organization a bit and myself. It’s been tough at times,” said Eichel, who missed the last 34 games of the regular season with a neck injury. “Right now, I think, for me, the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

The 24-year-old captain was also upset with the team’s handling of his neck injury, saying that he preferred surgery but the team did not.

“It doesn’t work like that. I wish. . . . I’m under contract with this team, and they definitely hold a lot of cards on what I can and can’t do,” he said.

Now Adams, who is entering just his second season as the GM, will need to make the right pick to satisfy not only his captain — who, if you read between the lines on “wherever that might be,” is potentially planning on asking for a trade — but also the fans who have become disenfranchised with a club that’s been a dumpster fire.

And this year’s draft is not an easy one. Last year, the Rangers selected first and had the easy task of taking Alexis Lafreniere, as the Canadian was known to be the top guy for months, if not years.

But that’s not the case now. There is not a consensus No. 1 guy. Defenseman Owen Power seems to be the most likely choice, but there is also his University of Michigan teammates Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson. Other big names include Dylan Guenther, Brandt Clark and the third Hughes brother, Luke.

“It can change kind of the course of your franchise,” Adams said of the No. 1 pick. “For sure, it’s energizing to the players in the room. I’m sure if you’ve asked our players, they’re excited right now. It’s energizing to our fan base. It’s energizing just to the people that work in this organization that love this place so much. It’s all the above, and it’s a big, I’ll say, step in the right direction of where we’re headed.

“We’re excited to add the next great Buffalo Sabre player to our franchise.”

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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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