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Best in NBA, huh? Lakers put Suns road mettle to the test

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Can the Phoenix Suns win on the road against defending champ Lakers in Game Three of the playoffs?

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After losing Game Two, finding themselves tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series, the Phoenix Suns absolutely positively have to win at least one game in LA if they want to advance to the second round. At least one.

The Suns now play three of the next four games in LA at the Staples Center (Games Three, Four and Six). If the Suns lose all three of those road games, the Lakers would be the first team to four wins and the Suns would go home for the summer. Season over. Kaput.

Unless... unless they can win one or more games in LA to keep hopes alive for close-out at home.

Good thing they have the league’s best record after a loss

The Suns don’t take losses well. They have the league’s best record after a loss, at 16-5 this season, and I’m sure you remember that the the Suns did not lose two games in a row for more than two months this spring.

And when they lose twice, they’re REALLY tough to beat. The Suns have only lost 2+ games in a row four times this season, and only lost 3 times in a row just once (all the way back in December 2020).

They hate losing, and it’s all about mindset. Which is something Chris Paul still has entirely in his control to influence.

And they are the best road team in the NBA.

The Suns posted a league-best 24-12 record this season on the road. The 66.7% win percentage is the third best road record in the franchise’s 54-year history — topped only by the 2004-05 and 2006-07 Nashty teams. They logged two more road wins than any other team in the league (22 — Denver, Portland).

Most teams get substantially worse away from home, hence the term ‘home court advantage’, but the Suns offense absolutely hums away from the friendly confines. They posted the league’s 6th best offense, 3rd best Effective Field Goal % and 2nd best True Shooting Percentage in road games — right in line, if not slightly better, with their home (4th/4th/5th) and overall numbers (7th/3rd/3rd). In raw numbers, they had the 3rd best field goal percentage on the road and actually got to the line a bit more than at home (18.7 FTAs/game on road). Their defense falls off a bit on the road, but they still post a positive net rating (+2.5).

And the best clutch road team in the NBA

Where the Suns really shine on the road is closing out games. They have been great in the clutch overall — 2nd best in the league with a 25-12 record in games where the score was within 5 points either way in the last 5 minutes. On the ROAD, they were 15-5 in the clutch, a 75% win rate! Those 15 clutch road wins were the most in the league by two (Portland was next with 13 clutch road wins).

That’s moxie for you, baby. Resilience. Relentlessness. All the buzz words Monty and the players have been saying all year.

And yes, that’s Chris Paul for you. But Chris Paul isn’t the only one who performs well in the clutch.

You already know about Deandre Ayton inhaling rebounds in the clutch better than any other player in the league. DA leads the league in total rebounds in the clutch (55) and blows everyone away with offensive rebounds in the clutch with 25 (the next best player is Mason Plumlee with 14). He also makes 61.5% of his clutch shots, and 80% of his clutch free throws.

Through 6 NBA seasons, Devin Booker has 5 career game-winning field goals in the final 3 seconds of games (once in 2020-21: Feb. 1 at Dallas) plus 3 career game-winning free throws in the final 3 seconds of games (twice in 2020-21: April 19 at Milwaukee and May 13 vs. Portland).

Chris Paul tied for 6th in the NBA with 120 total points scored in the clutch this year after leading the NBA with 150 clutch points last season. Over the last 2 regular seasons, only Damian Lillard (284), Nikola Jokic (279) and DeMar DeRozan (271) have scored more clutch points than Paul’s 270.

Back to the road...

Which Suns players are better in road games than at home?

  • Devin Booker lives at the free throw line on the road, taking almost two more attempts per game than he does at home. His TS%, usage, points and minutes all go up in road games. These numbers are true not only this year but for his whole career.
  • Mikal Bridges gets better on the road as well. This year he’s better in all the same categories on the road as Booker as: TS%, usage, points and minutes all go up in road games.
  • Chris Paul gets better on the road too, in all the same ways plus his three-point percentage pops over 40% and his assists go up a bit on the road
  • Cameron Payne shoots better on the road, but his assists and rebounds go down
  • Deandre Ayton doesn’t get better or worse on the road — he’s remarkably consistent across the board in both situations

But who gets worse?

  • Jae Crowder can’t shoot on the road at all (43% threes at home, 33% on the road)
  • Cam Johnson gets worse on the road too, same as Jae he can’t shoot straight (38% threes at home, 32% on road)
  • Dario Saric’s performance drops off a cliff on the road this year, all across the board in every statistical category, which is bad considering he’s already dropped off a cliff at home too

You might notice a trend here. For the most part, the Suns starters get better in road games while the bench units regress a bit. That’s to be expected, because it’s true across the league that bench units play better with the friendly crowd behind them.

Jae Crowder’s numbers stand out like a sore thumb, but when you look a little closer you see the real truth: he absolutely loves shooting in Phoenix Suns Arena. Crowder is a career 34% shooter on threes. He shoots 35% at home and 33% on the road. This year, he’s shooting 33% on the road, just like usual.

But AT HOME this season he’s made 43% of his threes in front of Suns fans, which has helped him record the second-best three-point shooting season of his career (38.9%). He went an unusual 0-7 on threes in the Game One win over the Lakers, and then 1-6 in the Game Two for 1-13 overall in two playoff games. But all that means is he will likely make 75% of his threes in Games Five and Seven right?

Bottom line

The Suns are a very good road team, very good clutch team, and very good at winning after a loss. They won’t fold under the pressure, even with a hobbled Chris Paul. Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton have been excellent this series and there’s no reason to think that will change. Cameron Payne needs to step up big time, and the Suns wings — Crowder, Johnson, Mikal Bridges — will need someone who makes a difference in a win.

Don’t doubt this Suns team’s ability to win on the road, no matter the stakes.

Next Up

Game Three: Suns at Lakers, Thursday night, 7:00 PM on TNT


All stats in this article were provided by the Suns, teamrankings.com, nba.com/stats or basketball-reference.com

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