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Suns suddenly struggling in close games

The best clutch team in the NBA failed to close the last two big games.

Charlotte Hornets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For the first time since the NBA Finals, and really for the first time in the regular season in almost a year, the Phoenix Suns (26-7) look quite beatable.

They have lost two straight home games to top-4 teams in the West — losing 116-107 to the Golden State Warriors (27-6) on Christmas and then 114-113 to the surging Memphis Grizzlies (21-14 overall; 12-4 in their last 16) two days later.

The two games mark the first time the Suns have allowed 114+ points in consecutive games this season, a year in which the Suns are:

  • 22-0 when allowing less than 110 points
  • 4-7 when allowed 110 or more points

A staple of the Suns this season (and last) has been to rely on their defense and their closers to win more games than any other NBA team since July 2020. I repeat: no NBA team has more wins than the Phoenix Suns since July 1, 2020.

The Suns boast the league’s 3rd best defense, which carries them to wins in most games even when their offense (8th overall) is lagging a bit behind.

They are at their best in the clutch (minutes of a game within 5 points in the last 5 minutes). Since last February 1, the Suns were a league-leading 32-6 in the clutch until losing these last two.

Thirty two wins. Six losses. Including winning 12 of 13 clutch games this season through Christmas Eve. The five Suns starters were among the top seven players in the whole league in the clutch, led by Chris Paul with a +60 in only 44 clutch minutes. The +60 for Paul and +56 for the team overall is even more impressive when you consider the Suns had only played the 17th most clutch minutes across the league.

League’s 3rd-ranked defense and the very best team in the clutch. That’s a recipe for a league-leading 26-5 record this season.

Until those last two games happened.

They were -4 in the clutch on Saturday against Golden State, including getting outscored 9-0 in the last three minutes after pulling to within 109-107. Reserve forward Otto Porter made the game’s only three field goals in the last three minutes for either team, all on long, contested jumpers.

Then they were -7 in the clutch on Monday against Memphis, despite almost winning the game with Booker’s three pointer with 5 seconds left to put the Suns up 113-112.

*Important clutch note: the Grizzlies outscored the Suns 16-9 in the clutch even though the Suns outscored the Grizzlies 20-16 overall during the last five minutes of the game. How is that possible, Dave, when ‘clutch’ is defined as a game within 5 points (score was 98-95 with five minutes left)? Well let me answer. All 16 of Memphis’ points were scored when the game was within 5 points, sometimes to stretch their lead from 4-5 points to 6-8 points (and taking the game momentarily out of clutch range on the Suns next possession). Only 9 of the Suns 20 points pulled the game closer than 5 points.

This is interesting because it goes to show just how good the Suns have been in the clutch... until these last two games.

In the last two games, against teams playing well who might be playoff opponents next April/May/June, the Suns defense and clutch play failed them.

Was this just a blip on the radar? Probably. Almost certainly. Tides always turn. The Suns have proven they are great in the clutch, but great is less than perfect. And sometimes great just gets beat.

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