Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk for the Suns (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
MEDIA

Reliving the Suns’ Alley-oop Stunner with ESPN’s Mike Breen

“What makes it special when it’s over is that you know everybody contributed to a really fun telecast,” the Hall of Famer tells Boardroom.

“We live for these kinds of games. You so enjoy it and get on this high afterwards, it’s almost impossible to fall asleep because you’re so fired up.” 

Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Breen had just flown from Phoenix to Los Angeles on Wednesday after calling the Suns’ thrilling, iconic, last-second win over the Clippers to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Jae Crowder’s sideline alley-oop pass was emphatically slammed home by Deandre Ayton with 0.7 seconds left to seal the 104-103 win, sending the Valley crowd into a frenzy as one of the most exciting moments in franchise history and possibly the single biggest play of the NBA season to date.

If you called it, you’d have trouble falling asleep, too.

As he’s done for 18 years now, Breen called the matchup for ESPN, and was joined by Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and sideline reporter Cassidy Hubbarth. Phoenix held the lead for the majority of the game until Paul George’s runner with 30.9 seconds left gave L.A. a 101-100 advantage. Devin Booker and George traded enormous baskets as the momentum swayed back and forth.

Booker turned the ball over with 9.3 seconds remaining as part of what seemed like an endless review process. Then, PG13 improbably missed a pair of free throws.

“A roller coaster ride of emotions,” Breen told Boardroom. “If you’re a fan, I can’t imagine being a fan of one of those two teams. It was torturous.”

The Suns then miss two potential game-winners, but grabbed the offensive rebound both times. An official review process gives Phoenix the ball out of bounds on the baseline with less than a second remaining — and some extra time to prepare despite having zero timeouts — setting up a play we’ll all remember for a long time.

“This is what we always talk about, is the fine line between winning and losing,” said the 60-year-old broadcasting legend. “This play could decide who’s the NBA champion.”

Since there was so much time in between game action with all these replay reviews, Van Gundy and Jackson were able to go into great detail about the strategy for the climactic final play, enabling Breen simply to focus on seeing the play properly. Doing so was harder than it might have appeared, however, because the crew’s courtside location was so near where the home fans were leaning forward in their seats and potentially blocking the broadcasters’ view of the action.

“I couldn’t see Jae Crowder when he was making the pass,” Breen said. “I knew he was there and I was leaning forward. But when he actually made the pass, I had to pull back so I could see everything else.”

Just getting the viewer at home to see every angle for the final play was a tall task executed behind the scenes by producer Tim Corrigan, director Jimmy Moore, and the camera operators interspersed throughout an extremely loud and tense environment.

“Think about being a cameraman or a camerawoman in the midst of that crowd with people going crazy,” Breen said, “and holding that damn camera steady and getting the perfect shot time and time again. They captured the emotion, the chaotic things that were going on on the floor, both when the ball was in play and when it wasn’t. To me, they were the stars of the telecast, capturing everything that we did.”

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Barring something improbable, the Clippers were poised to steal a road game and seize home court in the series. All they had to do was defend a last-second play drawn up by Suns head coach Monty Williams, with LA coach Ty Lue putting seven-footer DeMarcus Cousins on Crowder for the inbounds play.

The degree of difficulty on the pass Crowder was the kind perhaps only the likes of Simone Biles are familiar with.

“It had to be the perfect storm. It had to be the ideal pass,” Breen noted. “The defender couldn’t get in the way, you had another seven-footer right there. It was a tough angle. When you think about it, the precision that pass had to have, it’s one of the great passes of all time in terms of being just perfectly placed, the exact spot.”

From his vantage point, Breen noticed Clips center Ivica Zubac stumble as Booker was screening him. As he went up to deflect Crowder’s pass, his hand hit the bottom of the rim.

If Zubac doesn’t stumble, he probably gets a piece of the ball to end the game.

“All these little things come into one play,” Breen told Boardroom. ” It all came together for them and with our crew and all the incredible shots and Jeff and Mark with their commentary. For us, it was trying to get the moment right.”

Breen saw the ball go in and immediately knew it was a legal play. He saw three zeroes on the clock and didn’t see any officials waving things off as if there was more time left, so he proclaimed “it’s over” after seeing Ayton slam home a historically great Crowder pass. Clearly the referees put 0.7 seconds left on the clock, which elapsed uneventfully as the game concluded. But the incredible finish would be all everyone would be talking about the rest of the night, and even longer for those who watched in person or on TV.

“You just wanna do right by the moment,” Breen said. “What makes it special when it’s over is that you know everybody contributed to what we thought was a really fun telecast. To have a game finish like that, such an important game, on one amazing play like that, you just hope you convey the emotion and the energy and document exactly what happened.”