We have all witnessed, especially now that more fans than ever can watch the Phoenix Suns games at home. They just cannot close out games with a lead. In fact the Suns are the only team to have lost three games in which they led heading into the 4th quarter in a season that’s only 9 games old (seems like more, doesn’t it?).
According to NBA.com, the Suns are 3-3 in games they led on the scoreboard heading into the fourth quarter, and yes that includes both games against the Los Angeles Lakers like on Friday night. The only other team close to the Suns, you can smile now, are the Golden State Warriors with 2 such losses. No one else has more than 1.
How did we get here?
Well, somehow these dudes just can’t seem to keep executing their offense or their defense in the fourth quarter the way they’ve done it the rest of the game. Some of that is the opponent waiting that long to employ their countermeasures — like tripling Kevin Durant on the catch while Beal and Booker are out — late enough in the game that the Suns players can’t seem to adapt fast enough. And some of it is just these guys — basically KD plus a bunch of role players being asked to do more playmaking in the fourth quarter than they’ve been asked to do in prior places.
Here’s a handy dandy STAT ME, DAVE of a tale — over 9 games — how the Suns are good in the first half, lose their defensive way in the third quarter, and then lose it all in the 4th.
In the first half, they’re good. Not awesome, but not bad. Then coming out halftime, the offense really begins to cook in third quarter, but the defense relaxes.
Then the shots stop falling in the fourth quarter and the defense hasn’t been able to step back up to win the game that way. Most of THAT is because the offense suddenly starts giving the ball away on backcourt turnovers that lead to opponent fast breaks, whether they score immediately or not (opponents average 5 points on FBP in 4ths so far this year against the Suns, while the Suns TO rate jumps into the 20% range of possessions).
What’s the answer?
Easy Almost impossible answer #1 is stop trying to make Kevin Durant do all the work with the ball, especially when the defense is playing for it. That’s not easy. But as Bradley Beal gets healthier and his wind back, taking some load off KF will improve for sure. Beal was great in the first half last game, but did little in the second half. He’ll get better. Easy answer #2 is bring Devin Booker back. He will certainly make scoring easier in the 4ths.
But I have to go all the way back to what Booker said through the Chris Paul years, when the Suns were the best clutch team in the NBA. He said, first you shut THEIR water off, then score enough on your end to close the game. You don’t win games by just scoring. You have to stop them too, and you have to stop handing them the ball for transition offense.
The Suns have the defensive horses — even when KBB are all in there — to do some shutting off of water. Coach Vogel needs to fine out who that is — as long as those guys will actually catch-shoot-and-make those wide open corner threes. So far, Josh Okogie and Jordan Goodwin are unable to deliver on that. Even Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen are struggling there.
Here’s the 4th quarter shooting stats through the nine games.
Grayson Allen had a really good week — last Monday I ran these numbers and he was down at 15% after five games. Now he’s up to 30.8% after nine, so that’s good. Eric Gordon was 14% a week ago, so he’s heading up too. For those two, and certainly for Brad Beal, the law of their averages apply (45%). Not sure what Goodwin/Okogie averages will ever get to.
But again, you’ve got to shut their water off too. And the other teams are just cooking too hot in the fourths lately.
The Phoenix Suns host the OKC Thunder today at 6pm— ruh roh, not a great Jusuf Nurkic matchup against Chet Holmgren! — and we all know what Shai Gilgeous-Alexander does to the Suns every single time. That’s going to be a really really tough game to win. Maybe the toughest of the year yet.
Latest injury report on the Suns, as of this morning and subject to change, has Devin Booker (calf) upgraded to DOUBTFUL while Bradley Beal (low back) is PROBABLE. The new entry is Eric Gordon as QUESTIONABLE (left shoulder soreness).