Expectations are so high for the Phoenix Suns this season that an 11-9 record after 20 games seems disappointing, despite that being equal or better than 9 of the last 10 seasons.
Seven of the top 10 rotation players return from a losing team, and four of their regular starters are aged 24 or younger and have never sniffed a playoff game.
But an 8-0 run in the Bubble to cap off last year, winning every important game before coming up a tiebreaker short of making the play-in game, raised expectations.
Then adding point god Chris Paul, a veteran of 12 playoff runs including the last 10 straight, and Jae Crowder, a veteran of 7 straight playoff appearances, to the starting lineup put the Suns preseason through the roof.
Preseason expectations were that these Suns should not only make the playoffs, but they should be one of the better playoff teams at that.
Yet after 16 games, the Suns were just 8-8, losers of three straight and 7 of 9 overall.
That’s when Chris Paul started being his old self again, leading the Suns to a 3-1 record over the past week to set them back on the winning path.
- First 16 games: 14.9 points (45% FG, 29% 3P), 8.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds, .9 steals per game
- Last 4 games: 21.5 points (55% FG, 50% 3P), 7.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals per game
More than just the straight stats, Paul closed the games for the Suns. They beat the Mavericks twice and the Warriors once, each time with Chris Paul making him imprint on the game when he was needed most.
Suns beat Golden State, 114-93
Paul’s raw numbers in this game were not impressive — 13 points, 4 assists, 2 steals — because he only had to play 27 minutes in a much-needed blowout win over the Golden State Warriors, who came in at 10-8 for the season.
Paul led the Suns a 5-point halftime lead, then helped push the lead to 11 before giving way to a bench mob that surprisingly closed out the blowout win (Frank Kaminsky finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists in 25 minutes on the night, including 7/8/4 in the 4th alone!).
Suns beat Dallas Mavericks, 111-105
In a big win over Dallas, Paul poured in 29 points (including 12 free throws), dished 12 assists and had FOUR steals. The Suns were without Devin Booker again, so they needed every bit of Chris Paul to get a win over the rival Lukas.
In the game, Paul saved his very best for last. With the Suns down five points heading into the final frame, Paul scored 16 points and, with his assists, accounted for 30 of the Suns 34 points, as the Suns outscored the Mavericks by 11 in the fourth quarter to take the win.
In the key stretch of the game, Paul made a jumper, then fed Ayton for a big dunk and Jae Crowder for a back-breaking three to push the Suns from a 98-96 lead to 105-96 lead with 1:05 left.
Suns beat Dallas Mavericks, 109-108
Improbable is a good word for this game. Usually, it’s very difficult to beat a team in consecutive games, especially a team that’s basically on your same level. The Mavericks were desperate for a win and got encouraging performances from guys like Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith.
But Chris Paul would not be denied. Paul posted a crazy good line of 34 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists and once again was CLUTCH in the fourth quarter with 10 points and three assists, including the game winner with 1.5 seconds left on a dish to Devin Booker for three.
Suns lose to New Orleans Pelicans, 123-101
This was a come-down game for the Suns after the thrilling weekend wins in Dallas. Like the first game of the week but with a worse result, Paul posted just 10 points and 4 assists because he played only 25 minutes in a blowout.
The Suns just could not make any shots in this game — missing 27 of their 35 threes — and the second half just got away from the team. To Paul’s credit, he willed the Suns to ‘only’ a two point halftime deficit with a two-way stretch in the second quarter where they stayed alive despite the bad shooting.
For the season, Paul is sixth in the league in clutch points scored (score within 5 points in the final five minutes) with 48 points in 64 clutch minutes (over 13 games). He’s also 8th with 7 assists, and 5th with 3 steals in those situations. Yet he’s overall a minus-28 on the scoreboard because the rest of the team has been suspect in the clutch.
Yes, they lost on Wednesday night with Paul posting only 10 points, 4 assists and a steal but his good play was the reason the Suns stayed even with the Pellies all first half before they made an uncharacteristic number of threes in the second half to pull away. Paul barely touched the court in the 4th when the game was out of reach.
Four games, three important wins.
This is the Chris Paul the Suns need all season if they’re going to meet or exceed their lofty expectations.
They need All-Star, clutchiest clutch Chris Paul. A year ago, for the Thunder, Paul led the entire league in scoring in the clutch with 150 points in 168 clutch minutes. He shot 52%, including 37% on threes, and tied for the league lead with 10 steals in the clutch too.
Lately, he’s been just that.
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