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2021 NBA Finals - Game Five

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40 Before 10 Check-In: putting the Phoenix Suns incredible start into perspective

The Phoenix Suns won their 10th game in a row, hit 40 wins before 10 losses, and sent Monty Williams to the All-Star Game.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When the Suns won their 10th in a row on Sunday night over the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix became part of an elite club, reaching 40 wins before reaching 10 losses. So we’re going to try and put that in perspective a little bit, while sharing some numbers on how they’ve done it.

Ten: Part Two

As for Phoenix’s latest 10-game win streak, it may not feel like a lot after the 18-game win streak earlier in the season, but I can assure you that it is; no other team in the NBA has had even a 10-game win streak this season. Memphis had a 9-game streak earlier and Golden State had two 6-game streaks with one loss between each other, but no one else has reached 10. Suns have now done it twice.

The timing just seems a little off for a win streak, given a 5-game road streak that spanned 12 days as well as some injuries to key pieces, like Deandre Ayton (ankle), Jae Crowder (wrist), Cam Payne (wrist), and Cam Johnson (ankle). Luckily, Suns infrastructure helped pave the way for a “great trip” as well as gave depth pieces the necessary support to step up.

Johnson was out for three of the first four games during the streak, but he’s stepped up big time since stepping into the starting lineup in Crowder’s absence. During the four games, Johnson’s had two games of 20-plus points and is shooting 50% from deep on seven attempts per game.

Landry Shamet’s had his moments stepping up to the plate as well including his best game in a Suns uniform against Minnesota when he scored 17 points (tied for second most as a Sun) and dished out 5 assists (tied for most as a Sun).

And Devin Booker has looked like his final form during this stretch, in which he’s averaging 30.1 points and 4.2 assists and really getting after it defensively:

A lot of people will point to the mascot incident as what sparked this, but we all know that this is just who Booker is.

Just like they have been all season, the Suns clutch dominance always feels inevitable. During the streak, the Suns’ clutch net rating is up to 60.9 (!!!) in their six clutch games. Charlotte is the only other team that’s undefeated in clutch games during that stretch, and their clutch net rating is only 30.1.

Season from a Dream

Phil Jackson made the “40 before 20” rule the common indicator for which teams are real contenders; Phoenix reached that threshold a season ago, starting 40-15. The last NBA champion to not hit 40 before 20 was the 2005-06 Miami Heat – they hit 40-20, but lost their 20th game with only 30 wins.

The Suns took that a little further this season, becoming just the 5th team since 2010-11 – and first in franchise history – to reach the 40 before 10 mark.

Three of the other four were Golden State Warriors squads – two went onto win the title, the other is the 73-9 team that blew a 3-1 lead in the finals. The other was the legendary Atlanta Hawks team that won 60 games without a bona fide superstar – that team started 40-8 before going a much worse 20-14 over their final 34 and lost in four games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns weren’t thinking about this 40th win as just another milestone in a long season. Phoenix’s come-from-behind win over San Antonio was the win needed to lock up Monty Williams and the rest of the coaching staff’s spot in the All-Star game, which goes to the coach of the best record in each conference at the All-Star break. Williams becomes just the fourth Suns coach to receive the honor, following John MacLeod, Paul Westphal, and Mike D’Antoni.

As for what’s made their season so successful, that clutch net rating mentioned earlier gives us our biggest indicator. Over the course of the entire season, Phoenix has rates out at 44.7, which is about twice as high as the second-place Washington Wizards who stand at 22.6.

The clutch minutes tell us the Suns are too good to play in clutch more often than not as well, having the fewest minutes spent in clutch time among teams with winning records, tied at 71 minutes with… the Milwaukee Bucks.

Peculiarly, the Suns are playing a different game by pace standards. I say “peculiarly” because last season, the coach pushing for a higher pace was head assistant Willie Green, who’s since been hired away by the New Orleans Pelicans to be their head coach, so that particular voice is no longer preaching pace in the locker room. In Green’s absence, the pace has jumped from 97.2 (26th) a season ago to now 99.4 (7th) and it’s proven to open up more avenues for players to succeed.

Booker’s hitting new levels for himself, inserting himself into All-NBA lock discussions. He’s been so safe with the ball this season, averaging just 3.6 turnovers per 100 possessions (lowest mark of his career), and is defending his tail off, averaging 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks per 100 (both highest marks of his career) while fouling only 3.6 times per 100 (lowest mark). He was also shooting above 40% from three for the first time in his career earlier in the season, but that’s come down to 38%.

Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have become integral players to making both ends of this team work as well as they do. Bridges is likely to be named to an All-Defense team for the first time in his career.

Deandre Ayton, when he was playing, solidified what I should’ve known long ago: that he’s deserving of a full max contract, and it’s okay that it’s due in part to Chris Paul, who is starting to interject himself into MVP conversations yet again.

Like Coach Williams preaches, it’s important to celebrate the little goals along the way to the “mission”. We all know that this team is trying to accomplish what last year’s squad couldn’t get done: four wins in the NBA Finals. They’ve set a high bar for how good these guys can be with this 40-9 start. Considering Bridges and Ayton’s first season didn’t even include 20 wins by the end, how lucky are we to watch this squad work toward their mission?

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