Deandre Ayton and Nikola Jokic had quite a battle in the paint in Game 1 of their second round series in the NBA Playoffs. Both finished with solid numbers but it was Ayton who came out with the win.
But aside from feeling good about the Phoenix Suns’ victory, Ayton must be feeling extra nice as well after Jokic paid him a huge compliment after the game. Sounding like a wide-eyed child, the 22-year-old Ayton was absolutely shocked when he was told about Jokic’s remark.
Deandre Ayton on hearing Nikola Jokic said that Ayton gave him problems: “Wow he said that? That’s lit.”
Said he loves playing against Jokic and that’s the MVP of the league.
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) June 8, 2021
The 26-year-old Jokic was generous in his praise of Ayton, pointing out his winning mentality and work ethic.
Nikola Jokic on Deandre Ayton: “He knows what he needs to do and he’s doing it at a really high level. He’s a real two-way player, doing it on both ends. I don’t think you can ask for a better mentality from a young player.”
— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) June 8, 2021
As mentioned, Ayton quickly repaid Jokic with a compliment of his own, saying he enjoys battling with the Denver Nuggets star, who he thinks should be this year’s NBA MVP. Clearly, there’s a lot of love between the two, who played the exact same number of minutes on Monday.
Ayton finished with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds, plus 9-of-13 shooting from the field. He has shown tremendous composure in his maiden stint in the NBA Playoffs, providing ample support on both ends for Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Jokic, meanwhile, had 22 points, nine rebounds, two steals, and three blocks, but struggled from the floor, missing 13 of his 23 shots.
Ayton will only get better battling Jokic, as he continues to develop into a more well-rounded player in the years to come.
If Game 1 was any indication, Deandre Ayton and Nikola Jokic will have more intense skirmishes underneath. And they will absolutely go at each other’s throats—but with kindness.