With 17 straight wins, the 2021 Phoenix Suns have put together the longest winning streak in franchise history, and the 16th-longest in the NBA’s 75-year, 30-team league. This after making it to the NBA Finals last season, and recording the most wins in the NBA over the past 20 months.
What’s absolutely mind-boggling is that three of this team’s top four players just three years ago experienced the franchise’s longest-ever losing streak, which also happens to have lasted.... drumroll please... 17 games. That 17-game losing streak is tied with 9 other teams for 27th longest in league history.
Devin Booker (now a two-time All-Star), Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges were big-minute keys to BOTH ignominious feats.
No other trio of starters in league history has experienced both a 17-game losing streak and a 17-game winning streak together.
The Boston Celtics came the closest, with 18 straight losses in the spring of 2007 becoming 19-straight wins in the November 2008 with Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen all sharing both streaks, but Pierce and Allen barely played (2 games each) and Rondo/Perk were only part-time starters in the losing streak.
It just so happens that the Suns and Celtics are the only two franchises in league history to go from bottom-2 to top-2 within two seasons.
Mind blown, right?
Let’s go back in time three years to January 15 — February 23 of 2019. Devin Booker was a fourth-year high-scoring guard looking for success (“It’s been hard to win here”, he admitted regularly). Ayton and Bridges were rookies. James Jones was the interim GM. Igor Kokoskov was the coach. Look at the minutes leaders for that 17-game losing streak...
Doesn’t that seem like a collection of players that should have won a few of those 17 games?! Injuries to Tyler Johnson and T.J. Warren didn’t help, for sure, and not having a single real point guard in that mix didn’t help either. But man oh man, that was a long losing streak, amid a season that also featured other losing streaks of 6 or more games.
Both Ayton and Bridges, basking in the euphoria of the past 20 months where the Suns have won more games than any other NBA team, now look back on that 19-63 team with an aww shucks mentality.
“We just have some young guys that know how to play basketball,” Ayton says of the Booker-Ayton-Bridges trio. “But at the same time, we’re willing to take that constructive criticism, and not take it personal, but learn. That season where we only won 19 games, it wasn’t really no disappointment, it was just a lesson learned; that we never want to get back to that ever again, and that’s what we’re showing.”
“Just a lot of work, a lot of mental toughness, staying with it,” Bridges says. “We knew, when we first got here, that we wanted to turn it around.”
Booker, Bridges and Ayton are the young core of the team, but GM James Jones continued to reshape the roster around them and now those three are the only ones still here from that 63-loss team.
Here’s the minutes-per-game breakdown during this current 17-game win streak. Those three names are still at the top of the marquee.
“We stayed with it and we knew we were coming here to try to turn it around,” Bridges said. “Plus we had Monty (Williams) and everybody that came in. Obviously (Devin) Booker is here, but getting CP (Chris Paul), Jae (Crowder), and everybody who we drafted and picked up. It just turned out to be a really good team.”
They were asked together what felt like it took longer — the 17-game win streak or the 17-game losing streak?
“Losing,” they said in unison, without hesitation.
Ayton said this past month has been a blur.
The Phoenix Suns still have not lost a game since Devin Booker was 24 years old. The streak started on his birthday, October 30 — a game where the Suns overcame a 20-point first-half deficit to beat the lowly Pelicans.
Since then, the Suns went the entire month of November without losing and set a franchise record for most wins (16) without losing in a calendar month. This is only the 4th time in the franchise’s 54 seasons that any Suns team has gone undefeated in a calendar month, topping the Chuckster’s Finals-Bound Suns in 1992.
The Suns also set a franchise record for wins in a single month regardless of losses, topping MVSteve’s 2007 Suns at the height of their SSOL days.
I am once again asking you to enjoy these moments the way Booker, Ayton and Bridges are enjoying them, folks.
“It really feels like a college locker room,” Bridges says. “Because in college you’re forced to really like each other because you live together and see each other every single day, you have classes together and study hall together. It feels like a college team, man, and I’m just grateful for this.”