ORLANDO — The Phoenix Suns hate losing two games in a row.
It’s only happened three times this season.
Deandre Ayton and Cameron Payne made sure that rare history didn’t repeat itself Tuesday night.
The Suns bounced back from Sunday’s loss in Milwaukee in a rematch of last year’s finals to escape Orlando, 102-99, at Amway Center.
“I feel like we’ve been in situations like that a 1,000 times where teams feel like they got the momentum,” said Ayton, who finished with 21 points and 19 rebounds. “They go on a late run and we just start chipping down and play Suns basketball. Play defense and the sense of urgency is even higher. Just the willingness to win and play together.”
Ayton and Payne came through in the clutch after the Magic rallied back from 15 points down late in the third to take a 97-96 lead with 1:51 remaining in the game.
Down one, Ayton put the Suns up one on an offensive rebound putback with 1:31 left.
After Phoenix got consecutive stops, Ayton gave Phoenix a 100-97 lead off a pass from Payne with 12.7 seconds left.
“Coach (Monty Williams) was banging my head into the ground, make sure you just be patient off the pick-and-rolls,” said Payne, who finished with 18 points and 12 assists.
“Be a little bit more patient and let everything develop. That’s what happened with DA. I saw him. He made that shot all game in Milwaukee.”
Ayton scored a season-high 30 in Sunday’s loss against the Bucks.
“Gave him the opportunity again,” Payne said. “I’ve knocked it down. Big-time shot.”
The Magic answered with Cole Anthony making two free throws after Mikal Bridges intentionally fouled him, but Payne hit two himself to make the difference three again with 6.9 seconds left.
Down three, Franz Wagner looked to force overtime, but Bridges blocked his 3 with 4.2 seconds.
“It all came down to stops and Mikal with that big block,” Payne said. “Just find a way to win the game at the end. That’s what it’s all about.”
Jae Crowder corralled the ball for his 11th rebound and found Payne, who dribbled out the clock with Ayton celebrating on the baseline.
“I was super excited,” Ayton said, as Torrey Craig was in the game for him for the game’s final 10.9 seconds. “We saw he got beat, but how he recovered, that dude is a first-teamer (NBA All-Defense) for sure.”
This was after Bridges ended up on the floor on the baseline and limping off the court after a called timeout late in the fourth quarter.
After that, Suns associate head coach Kevin Young walked onto the floor and asked the Magic to mop up the baseline area. Craig later checked for any wet spots on the floor along the baseline.
“I’m proud of the way he hung in there because I didn’t know if he was going to be able to play after he went down,” Williams said about Bridges. “He got himself together and came back in and helped us win this game.”
Landry Shamet also came through in place of Suns All-Star guard Devin Booker.
Hitting a season-high six 3s, Shamet scored a season-high 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
“More than anything, it was just a good team win,” said Shamet, who went 6-of-10 on 3s while the rest of he Suns combined to hit only 7-of-26 from deep .
“Coach always talks about that’s going to be one when we look back, we’ll be really grateful we pulled it out. Found a way to win.”
Shamet scored nine in the fourth before Ayton, Payne and Bridges closed out the game.
“I just thought the willingness to take those shots,” Williams said. “Everybody on the team tells him to shoot the ball, play free. He plays with great intentions and tonight, it was just impressive to see him step up and make big shot after big shot.”
Rewinding back to Ayton, he hadn’t reached double-digit rebounding in seven straight games with six of those coming after the All-Star break
The 6-11 Suns big had 10 in the first half alone to go with 15 points.
“I needed one of those games,” Ayton said. “I was not doing a good job of securing boards and closing out possessions correctly.”
Williams called Ayton’s performance “an adult game” as Ayton shot 10-of-19 from the field and grabbed four offensive rebounds.
The Suns were still without Booker and Cam Johnson as neither made the trip to Orlando. Booker has missed Phoenix’s last four games in the league’s COVID health and safety protocols while Johnson has been out the last two with a right quad contusion.
Johnson suffered the injury in his career-high 38-point night that ended with a 31-footer at the buzzer Friday night to stun the Knicks, 115-114, at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
All-Star point guard Chris Paul remains out with a fractured right thumb suffered in a game against Houston before the All-Star break.
Paul will likely miss the rest of the regular season.
With the league’s best record, Phoenix plays at East leader Miami (44-22) Wednesday on the second of back-to-back.
The Heat blasted the Suns, 123-100, in Phoenix last month without All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism