“What we’re trying to do on both sides of the court is just all clicking right now, connectivity-wise,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said after the win on Wednesday night against the Mavericks. “That communication that we have amongst one another, especially when you’re on the court with those five guys, I think that’s picked up, and that’s translated into some wins for us as of late.”
The Suns starting five of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton played the most minutes together of any five-man lineup in the league last year, a year that culminated in the league’s second-best regular season record and later to the franchise’s third-ever NBA Finals appearance. They developed a bond that become more instinctual every day.
“I walk out to the space that I am in,” head coach Monty Williams says of walking out onto the court, away from the huddled players, at the beginning of each timeout. “And I look back at the bench just to see the attitude of the bench and they’re communicating but its at a good emotional level. I’ve seen that pretty consistently this season and I think that’s something that we’ve probably grown in over the past year with this particular group and I’m sure a lot of that playoff experience helped us grow in that area.”
This Suns team is very good. They have the most wins and fewest losses in the NBA since the start of the Bubble, since adding Chris Paul three months later, since February 1 of this year, and since the playoffs started in May.
This team just knows how to win.
“It’s not easy to win here.” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said after the game on Wednesday. “It’s not easy to win against the best in the west.”
Those looking for ways to discount this early-season winning streak, such as the Suns playing the league’s easiest schedule according to basketball-reference.com, are missing the big picture.
Winning 10 straight games is not easy. Last season, only one NBA team (Jazz) had a double-digit winning streak. The year before that, five teams did it. The year before that, one team.
This isn’t college sports, where schools load up their early schedule with patsies from lower divisions. The Suns have not been playing the Erie Baydogs. Based on early-season win-loss records, the Suns have had it as easy as anyone, though. Their 10 opponents in this stretch are the Cavaliers (9-7 current record), Pelicans (2-14), Rockets (1-14), Hawks (7-9), Kings (6-9), Blazers (8-8), Grizzlies (7-7), Rockets again (1-14), Wolves (5-9) and Mavericks (9-5). Not a murderers row of competition, but again not the Erie Baydogs.
Don’t short-change your enjoyment of this win streak, Suns fans. They don’t come often.
The Suns 10-game winning streak is the 12th such streak in the franchise’s 54 year history. The last time the Suns won 10 straight games, they were ‘bully balling’ through the second half of the 2009-10 season that ended in a Western Conference Finals berth. That team was hot and cold — they started 14-3, then went 12-18, before finishing on a 28-7 blitz to the playoffs as the third seed in the West. Amid that 28-7 run was that 10-game streak.
Since then, over a decade of games, the Suns did not win more than 6 in a row. And from 2015 to 2020, the first 4+ years of Booker’s career, the Suns never won more than 4 in a row.
Nay, the only double-digit streaks Devin Booker saw were losing streaks. Booker watched his team compose five different double-digit losing streaks early in his career, including runs of 10, 13, 13, 15 and 17 games! Heck, even in the Monty Williams’ rise-to-competence rookie season included an 8-game losing streak.
“It’s been hard to win here,” Booker said time after time during those dark years.
Then the Suns flipped the script.
Over the past 15 months, the Suns have had win streaks of 8 games (the Bubble run), 9 games (2021 playoffs), and now 10 games. Along that way, the Suns have not lost more than 3 straight, and they have the most wins and fewest losses of any NBA since the start of the Bubble.
Chris Paul is the Hall of Famer, but Devin Booker is the offensive catalyst. He blew away the record for most points scored in a player’s first postseason (902 points in 22 games), notched a triple-double in his first-ever Conference Finals game and became the youngest player to score 40+ in consecutive NBA Finals games. This and this year he’s on pace to grab career-high in rebounds (6.2 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.96:1).
Yes the Suns have had an easy schedule to date, and yes they are doing the most they can with it. They have now held their last four opponents under 100 points despite playing at a fast pace.
About that fast pace: over this 10-game streak, they are second in points scored per game (despite not shooting well) while giving up the 5th fewest points to the other team, resulting in the second-best point differential (+11.3 per game).
They are not all blowouts. Six of the 10 wins in this win streak have come in the clutch (within 5 points in the last 5 minutes of a game), where the Suns have outscored their opponents 64-31 in 20 clutch minutes over those six such games. Turnovers drop to near-zero while the shooting skyrockets and the defense clamps down.
“I think after our experience in our playoff run last year, we pay attention to the details,” Booker said after the Wednesday’s win. “Every game we’re preparing for what the next level is, and that’s the postseason, so every play counts.”
“We trust each other,” Chris Paul said. “We trust our defense and our principles, and we were able to execute down the stretch.”
A year ago, the Suns were one of the best teams in the clutch, with a 25-12 record in such games. This year, they are 6-1 so far including these last 6 straight clutch wins.
Coach Monty Williams calls it mental stamina.
“The playoff run last year made us build the trust that we need moving forward,” forward Jae Crowder said. “I think when you put us in tough situations, we don’t panic. When teams go on runs, we’re not over there yelling at each other, we’re just trying to find solutions.”