We all know that the Phoenix Suns have the best record in the NBA at 58-14. We know they are a machine that grinds you down with precision execution, knowing you’re going to make more mistakes than they are, to almost always pull out the win.
When the Suns lead after three quarters, they are 44-0 this season. Teams occasionally match that undefeated feat. The 2019-20 LA Lakers, who won the championship, were 43-0 in such games in that 72-game season. Other teams, like the Warriors from 2015-19, had more overall games leading after three quarters, but still lost a few. Those Warriors won three championships in five years.
Yet, the standout for this 2021-22 Phoenix Suns team so far is their sheer resilience. They don’t just beat you when they’re ahead. They beat you from behind too.
The Suns are the only team with a winning record this season (14-13) when TRAILING* after three quarters.
You have to go back to the 73-win Warriors in 2015-16 — seven years ago — to find the last team who had a winning record (10-7) when trailing to start the fourth quarter. They won the championship that year.
*You’re asking, “Dave, they’re 58-14. Your math doesn’t add up!” Well, the Suns are 0-1 when tied after three quarters this season. That means they’ve lost the last two times they’ve entered the fourth quarter tied….
Heck, six years ago was the last time someone even came CLOSE to having a winning record when trailing to start the fourth quarter. Fourth quarter comebacks are fun, and they make the headlines, precisely because they don’t happen very often.
The perfect example of a typical NBA team is the 2019-20 Phoenix Suns, led by first-year head coach Monty Williams. That team finished 34-39 with a net point differential of +0.2 points per game. A perfectly average team, all things considered. They were mid-pack on offense and defense. Yet that perfectly average team was, as most NBA teams are, entirely predictable based on the score at the end of three quarters: 30-4 when leading to start the fourth quarter vs. 3-33 when starting behind. They just didn’t come back.
This current Suns team is just different.
They have come back to win 14 games, including Sunday’s win over the Kings, despite trailing after three quarters.
And they’re not just doing it with their stars. That comeback win on Sunday was closed out by this lineup: Aaron Holiday, Landry Shamet, Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig and Bismack Biyombo. Such a ragtag lineup at the end of overtime was necessary because the Suns came into the game down four rotation players and three more fouled out.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Torrey Craig said. “It was a hard game. Three guys fouled out. No Cam Payne being sick. Jae Crowder getting hurt and we already down CP and Cam Johnson. So to pull out a win like that on the road. man, to go through that adversity and pull through is huge for us.”
“It’s very satisfying,” Devin Booker, one of those who fouled out, said. “It’s just a team win. It takes a special group to do what we did. Three guys fouling out. Other guys stepping up.”
Booker, Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee all fouled out with the game still in the balance. But the Suns did not waver.
That closing lineup included three players — Craig, Holiday and Biyombo — who didn’t even start the year with the squad and another — Landry Shamet — in his first year with the team. But all have fit in perfectly.
“Everybody on our team that had a uniform on had a chance to have an impact on the game,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I keep talking about needing guys in those moments so that when it happens later in the year, guys are comfortable in those situations.”
Shamet made a three pointer — his 5th of the game — with 31 seconds left to put the Suns ahead for good. They had entered the fourth quarter trailing 87-85.
“Good draw up by Mont as always,” Shamet said. “He’s unbelievable with the Xs and Os and really all I can speak to our execution down the stretch. That’s the biggest piece. Me shooting a corner jump shot is the smallest part. It’s about the details when you go back and look at it.”
Spread the word to all your casual Suns fans: Don’t turn off the TV regardless of the score if the Suns are down at the end of three. Because there’s at least a 50/50 shot they’ll win anyway.