Sport: NBA Heat Check: Ayton on fire as Hawks have wings clipped

Alley-Oop with the siren! SUNS beat clippers also in game 2

 Alley-Oop with the siren! SUNS beat clippers also in game 2 the last 90 seconds of the second duel between Suns and Clippers took gross 33 minutes - and were crowned by a crazy final. Phoenix now leads to 2: 0. © Getty Images The final second: Deandre Ayton stuffs the ball over Ivica Zubac into the ring. Ayton sinks Crowder's passport to victory for Phoenix These Suns seem to be nothing to stop. Not through the renewed lack of your strategic Chris Paul (in the Covid 19 protocol) and not by a residue with 0.7 seconds on the clock.

We could soon know who will be fighting it out for the NBA title, with both Conference Finals in danger of being decided emphatically.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Deandre Ayton embraces Devin Booker © NBAE Deandre Ayton embraces Devin Booker

The Phoenix Suns have surged into a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, while title favourites the Milwaukee Bucks have recovered from a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks to lead 2-1.

The coming week will decide who will face off for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and, in this edition of Heat Check, Stats Perform looks at which players are on form heading into the decisive matchups, as well as those who need to step up.

RUNNING HOT

Reggie Jackson - Los Angeles Clippers

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  NBA playoffs 2021: Bucks star Giannis doubtful for Game 6, Hawks' Young questionable Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young are in a race against time to be fit for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.The Bucks moved 3-2 clear in the Eastern Conference Finals after beating the Hawks 123-112 in Game 5 on Thursday, with Antetokounmpo and Young both watching from the sidelines.

With Kawhi Leonard showing no sign of making a return from a knee injury that has kept him out for the past six games, the Clippers need players to improve if they are to save their season.

Los Angeles face an elimination game on Monday in the Western Conference Finals, but they can take heart from what Jackson has done in Leonard's absence.

Jackson has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games, including a 27-point performance in the Game 7 win over the Utah Jazz.

He averaged 20.67 points per game last week, exactly 10 points more than he did in the regular season. The Clippers must have another big effort from him in Game 5.

Deandre Ayton - Phoenix Suns

Ayton enjoyed one of the defining moments of these playoffs with his game-winning alley-oop in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. He is blossoming into the star center the Suns thought they were getting when Phoenix selected him first overall in 2018.

NBA playoffs 2021: Suns stars hail 'incredible play' that sealed Game 2 win over Clippers

  NBA playoffs 2021: Suns stars hail 'incredible play' that sealed Game 2 win over Clippers Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns praised the execution of Deandre Ayton's game-winning dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers.But Devin Booker knew Jae Crowder's inbounds lob to Booker that led to the game-winning basket with 0.7 seconds left was legal.

His dramatic final basket in the second game capped a superb performance in which he produced 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Not content with just one double-double, Ayton produced another in Game 4, putting up 19 points and tallying 22 rebounds.

Over the course of the three matchups last week, Ayton recorded 20.33 points and 15 rebounds per game, both significant increases on his averages of 14.15 points and 10.54 rebounds in the regular season. No wonder Ayton has received such effusive praise from team-mate Chris Paul.

Trae Young - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks' hopes of upsetting the odds once more against the Bucks hang in the balance with star point guard Trae Young having been diagnosed with a bone bruise, making him questionable for Game 4.

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  NBA playoffs 2021: Hawks' Young questionable for Game 4 against Bucks Trae Young is dealing with a foot problem ahead of Tuesday's clash with the Milwaukee Bucks.Young hurt his ankle in the third quarter of Sunday's 113-102 defeat as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed a 2-1 series lead in the NBA playoffs.

If he is ruled out, it will be a great shame as Young has played phenomenally in the playoffs, including making a superb start to the Eastern Conference Finals.

He began the series last week by scoring an astonishing 48 points as the Hawks took Game 1 in Milwaukee.

Young was held to 15 in Game 2 but bounced back with 35 in the third game, going six for 14 from three-point range, taking his points per game for the week to 32.67, way up on his already impressive average of 25.3 from the regular season.

GOING COLD...

Bogdan Bogdanovic - Atlanta Hawks

Young's presence is even more important given one of Atlanta's secondary scoring threats is having to fight through a knee injury.

Bogdanovic has continued to battle knee soreness and the impact on his play has been obvious.

He averaged over 16 points a game in the regular season, but has put up only 6.67 so far in this series.

The Hawks may need him to produce more amid the pain to improve their odds of stunning the Bucks.

Clint Capela - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks also haven't quite got the desired production they desire from center Capela.

That may be a slightly unfair statement given that Capela has tallied double-digit rebounds in two of the three games in the series, including a double-double in the Hawks' opening win.

Yet in terms of putting up points, his output has disappointed in comparison with his regular-season numbers. Tallies of 12, two and eight give him a per-game average of 7.33 that is in stark contrast to the 15.17 he delivered in helping the Hawks clinch the fifth seed in the East.

In a series with a Bucks team whose leading lights are firing on all cylinders, that isn't going to cut it.

Paul George - Los Angeles Clippers

With the Clippers competing in a place in their first Finals without Leonard, it is a bad time for George to go cold from deep.

Having made 3.17 threes per game in the regular season, George was off the mark from beyond the arc in three games against the Suns last week.

He made an average of 1.67 threes per game, hitting on one triple in two contests, including the Game 4 loss that has put the Clippers on the brink of elimination.

George simply must rediscover his aim to keep their season alive.

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