Cameron Johnson’s three pointer at the 1:11 mark and Chris Paul’s three-point play with 17.1 seconds left each put the Suns up by six to hold off the hard-working Spurs, who had come to Phoenix on a four-game winning streak.
The Suns are now an NBA-best 11-1 this season in the clutch, referring to the minutes of games within 5 points in the last 5 minutes of the fourth quarter. They have a best-by-a-mile net rating of +53.5 points per 100 clutch possessions. This isn’t new — last year’s Suns were also excellent in the clutch with a 25-12 record for the season, including a stellar 20-5 record in the clutch after they had figured each other out (Feb 1+).
Chris Paul has been one of the league’s best clutch players for many years now. He often takes more shots in the fourth and either scores or assists on nearly every clutch possession.
“The fourth quarter, that’s when the game gets more exciting.” Paul said. “Fourth quarter, I get to play for longer stretches.”
He says that for the first three quarters, he’s setting up his teammates to get them going.
“Probably the first three quarters, it’s crazy, you’re sort of in the game and then you’re out of the game,” he said, trying to explain why he doesn’t shoot much in the first three quarters. “You’re playing like four or five-minute stretches. And so, the way that I play, I’m usually always getting guys going. And maybe once I get going, you come out.”
Clutch time is Chris Paul. He shoots 64.7% in the clutch with 13 to 3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Fourth quarter, a lot of times, depending on how the game is going, you get a chance to play for longer stretches,” he said. “You just feel the game out and figure out a way to win.”
According to popular stat site, basketball-reference.com, the Phoenix Suns should be about three wins worse than their record, 17-7, but their clutch play has squeezed out some more wins than the average team with their point differential (+6.4 points per game, 3rd in league).
Paul’s three-point play with 17.1 seconds left sealed the win, but his block/steal on a Dejounte Murray breakaway saved the Suns a possession before that. With the ball and nursing a three-point lead (105-102), Jae Crowder threw a bad pass to Paul that Dejounte Murray stole for a runaway fast break finish that would have cut the lead or even tied the game. But Paul flew in past Murray as he gathered for a layup and stripped him. The ball bounced off Murray’s hand once more before going out of bounds.
Awesome still-shots from Patrick Breen here. You should follow this guy on twitter!
Suns' Chris Paul gets a late steal on Spurs' Dejounte Murray. McGee and Booker were pic.twitter.com/9ijRQ7YD98— Patrick Breen (@pjbreenphoto) December 7, 2021
“I told Chris those are plays that not many people can make,” head coach Monty Williams said afterward. “Most guys would foul in that situation, but he was able to get his hands on the ball somehow, and then Dejounte (Murray) couldn’t figure out where the ball was and he clipped it before it went out.”
“I watch a lot of basketball,” Paul of the play.
That’s when teammate Jae Crowder goaded him into more than the pithy answer to how he got that block/steal.
“Just knowing the game,” Paul explained further. “And what everybody in the league sort of does when they’re making a euro-step or you’re going up for a layup. And the thing is, Dejounte is a great defender like that too, knowing how to steal and just tracking the ball.”
"I think he prefers to call it a steal."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) December 7, 2021
Cam Johnson on Chris Paul's block on Dejounte Murray that led to a Murray turnover in #Suns win over #Spurs.
When told what Johnson said, Paul replied, "I'll take the win. Put it whatever you want to."
Paul top five all-time in steals. pic.twitter.com/1G3wBfUSxv
“I thought our starters even at the end there,” Spurs forward Doug McDermott said later. “We came in and did a great job but Chris Paul did Chris Paul things so, got to tip your cap.”
The Spurs played a very good game against the Suns here in Phoenix, and could have won this one too. They executed on offense in the final minutes — just couldn’t get a few stops when they needed them.
“They have a lot of athletes that can disrupt,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
“I think there were some plays that didn’t go our way defensively,” Spurs rookie Joshua Primo said after. “A couple stops we almost had and it just didn’t go our way and that happens in the game of basketball.”
“We had a chance to win against one of the best teams in the league,” McDermott said. “Unfortunately, we lost, but I think we’ll learn a lot from this one and hopefully carry some of this momentum into tomorrow.”