When the Phoenix Suns (38-32) won by three points on Thursday night with a game-saving block by Josh Okogie in a 116-113 win over Orlando, it seemed like a long time since they’d won a super-close game like that right?
In fact, the last time the Suns won a game by three points or fewer was two months ago vs. the Memphis Grizzlies on January 22. Their 4-9 record in three-points-or-fewer games this year is the worst in the whole Western Conference. Those 9 losses they have are already the most in the West since the Pelicans amassed 10 in a season three years ago.
Okay Dave, don’t get it twisted with arbitrary stats. They just beat the Mavericks by 4 points a couple weeks ago!
Fine. The Suns are 10-13 in games decided by 5 points or less in the final score, and are only 13-16 in ‘clutch’ games this year (score within 5 points at any point in the last five minutes, regardless of final score). Just four NBA teams have fewer clutch wins this season (Bulls, Rockets, Pistons and Spurs) and three of those are actively trying to lose as many games as possible.
To make matters worse, not all close games end up as close games. In just the past week, the Suns had a tie game fourth quarter against the Kings (115-115 with 3:16 left, and down only one with 1:22 left) and the Bucks (tied 97-97 with 6:48 left), only to get their butts handed to them in the closing minutes for 9 and 12 point losses.
Bottom line: your Suns suck in close games this year.
That’s why so many valley sphincters could have formed diamonds last night when it required a pair of Terrence Ross free throws and a crazy-risky block by Josh Okogie to seal this one.
“Thank God I didn’t foul him,” Okogie said later.
Up three with just seconds left, the Suns usually commit an intentional foul before the shot can go up to put the other team on the free throw line for two points max. We’ve seen the Suns successfully do that time and again, including the possession before. But on this final possession, the Magic got into shooting position so quickly that Okogie had to make a decision.
Josh Okogie with the game-saving block against the Magic pic.twitter.com/23KoIEW3lm— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) March 17, 2023
“Once the time starts going and they’re facing the basket,” Williams recalled, “You don’t want to risk [fouling] and so to be able to make a play like that in the end is huge for us.”
Okogie knew that, once Paolo Banchero caught it facing the basket, fouling him was not an option. He’s one of the few players in the league who could even think of what he did next.
“I kind of read it and I didn’t think it was a good situation to foul him unless he was taking a dribble into a three,” Okogie said later. “Since he didn’t take a dribble, I just anticipated the shot. Thank God I didn’t foul him.”
Okogie finished the game with 15 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks — the first Suns player to amass those kinds of numbers since Eric Bledsoe did it 8 years ago. Bledsoe is an interesting comp for Okogie, who has posted 10+ points in 10 of his last 14 games, and now has 5 games of 4+ assists, six games with 3+ steals and two games of 3+ blocks.
Chris Paul was impressed with Okogie’s ability to even try that block.
“What Josh be doing is some of the stuff I’ve never seen before. That block in Houston was tough; not only did he do that, but he went and dunked on the guy. That is a gutsy block there being up three; anything can happen or what not. We trust him. He built our trust by having those types of plays in those situations.”
So the Suns won a tight game. Finally.
The Kings, 2nd in the West, are the new clutch mavens despite having a bottom-five defense. Their record in the clutch this year is 24-15, and are 15-10 in five-point games. Their 9 wins in three-points-or-fewer games (9-7) are the most in the West, including an incredible 5-0 in one-point games.
The Nuggets, the West leaders, are an even better 20-11 in the clutch and 15-6 in five-points games, but just 6-6 in three-point games.
Among the teams the Suns are trying to hold off to keep the 4th seed:
- the Clippers are 4-5 in three-point games and 21-17 in the clutch
- the Warriors are 3-6 in three-point games and 17-18 in the clutch
- the Mavericks are 7-9 in three-point games and 24-21 in the clutch
Your Suns need the basketball gods to start smiling on them some more, or at least need Josh Okogie to block a few more last-second